When Elizabeth Sanchez decided to move back to Houston from California in November 2014, she couldn’t quite explain what was drawing her back.
“I felt like there was a purpose for my kids and me in Houston,” Elizabeth says. “I was anxious. I knew that we belonged in Houston and I wasn’t quite sure why.”
Her decision turned out to be an unforeseen blessing for her family. Just a few months later, Elizabeth’s son, Caleb, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Caleb’s acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnosis
Not long after the family’s move, Caleb developed a fever that would not go away. He had night sweats and no appetite.
Thinking he had a virus, Elizabeth took Caleb to the emergency room. Within an hour, he was surrounded by doctors and nurses.
“At that point it seemed like a bigger deal than a virus,” Elizabeth says.
One of the physicians pulled her aside and told her that Caleb’s bloodwork indicated suggested he might have leukemia and that she should take him to MD Anderson for additional tests.
“From that moment on, our lives completely changed,” Elizabeth says. “I was devastated to think that this could actually happen to my son. You hear it happen to people around you, but you never think it could happen to you or your kids.”
In January 2015, just before Caleb’s third birthday, doctors at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital gave Elizabeth a definitive diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia. “I didn’t even know kids could get cancer,” Elizabeth says. “When you’re told your child has cancer, you’re shaken by those words. It doesn’t matter how strong you are.”
Within two weeks of receiving his diagnosis, Caleb began aggressive chemotherapy and steroids. After finishing the first phase of his treatment (induction phase chemotherapy) in March, Caleb was declared in remission. But he will still undergo three years of maintenance chemo and other cancer prevention medications to prevent a relapse.
A young mother’s advice
Despite feeling overwhelmed initially, Elizabeth tells others to take things one day at a time. “Focus on being there for your child,” Elizabeth says. “And have hope — that’s really what helps you to move forward.”
She also encourages others to seek treatment at MD Anderson, if possible.
“It’s bittersweet that that we have to be here for cancer treatment,” Elizabeth says. “But the sweet side is that we get to deal with such amazing people on a daily basis.”
And Elizabeth isn’t the only one who feels this way. Thanks to her son’s doctor, Cesar Nunez, M.D., Caleb actually looks forward to coming to MD Anderson. Dr. Nunez helps ease any anxiety by checking Caleb’s ears for elephants and dinosaurs.
“Dr. Nunez is an amazing person,” Elizabeth says. “When we first started at MD Anderson, Caleb was scared and didn’t know what to expect, but Dr. Nunez really helped him come around.”
Elizabeth also acknowledged that they could not have made this journey without Caleb’s nurses, social workers and child life specialist.
“We really couldn’t do it without them,” she says.
A chance to be a kid
Since his acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnosis, Caleb has enjoyed all Houston has to offer. Sometimes Caleb’s weakened immune system limits what he can do, but when he’s feeling good, he’s taken advantage of some opportunities through MD Anderson and other cancer organizations. He’s visited the Houston Zoo and attended Astros games, ice skating performances and the circus.
“These are really unique experiences,” says Elizabeth. “It’s nice to interact with other families that are going through the same thing.”
Caleb also loves to play with his sisters, Joalie, 7, and Emma, 1. He often likes to pretend he’s a superhero jumping from couch to couch.
”I’m so thankful that he can still be a child in the midst of his cancer treatment,” Elizabeth says.
Helping kids be kids
Caleb is one of many kids who will benefit from Stripes® Convenience Stores’ 2nd “Stripes® Stores Celebrates Tomorrows” campaign, which raises money for MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital. Every dollar donated at Stripes® Stores will go directly towards helping kids with cancer. Each donation will be matched dollar for dollar.
Caleb is featured on in-store paper pin-ups in more than 650 Stripes® Stores as part of the campaign, which launched on Sept. 16 and runs through Oct. 13.
The money raised by Stripes® will support more effective and safer cancer treatments for our childhood cancer patients. In addition, some of the funds will support our Pediatric Education and Creative Arts Program, which helps kids be kids and maintain a sense of normalcy by continuing to learn and go to camp – even during cancer treatment.
“MD Anderson has given us so much hope and given Caleb a chance to be a kid,” Elizabeth says. “I’m so grateful for all they’ve done for us, and we’re so happy to support Stripes’ efforts to help continue this type of care for Caleb and other kids.”
Learn more about Stripes® Stores’ support of MD Anderson childhood cancer research and programs.