Finding the light: a family’s journey with childhood cancer

September marks Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Nieve Corsino says she always felt deeply touched by fundraising initiatives that benefitted children diagnosed with cancer. Having uncovered that she had a benign brain tumor several years ago, she felt compelled to donate to a cause that would fund new treatments and advances in pediatric cancer research. She never could have imagined that the very cause she was supporting would one day touch her own child’s life. But on January 27th, 2014 her then 7 year-old son, Andy Jr., was given an unthinkable diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic lymphoma, otherwise known as ALL.

“I was completely shocked,” says Nieve. “All this time I had been supporting this cause, and lo and behold, my own child gets sick. I felt lost.” 

Facing an unthinkable diagnosis

Leukemia is a form of cancer that affects the white blood cells (WBC). ALL, the type that Andy has, makes up about 75% of childhood leukemia.

 Shortly after receiving his diagnosis, Andy Jr. started chemotherapy and is now in the maintenance phase of treatment. This new phase allows him more time at home, and he is seen on an outpatient basis, receiving some doses of chemotherapy at home rather than in the hospital.

A circle of support

Nieve credits the Hematology-Oncology Division at the Montreal Children’s Hospital for helping her through her son’s lengthy hospitalizations by encouraging her to take time for herself. “It was a very stressful time for the whole family,” Nieve explains. Originally from the Dominican Republic, the mother of two says she found it difficult and isolating to deal with her son’s diagnosis at first.

“A cancer diagnosis affects everyone in the family. As a single parent, I felt like I had to be with my son all the time and didn’t give myself permission to take breaks. I remember one day Bertrand, Andy’s Child Life Specialist, came up to me and announced that a volunteer would be with Andy Jr. all day and that I should go home and rest, and then come back. Up until that day I had never left his side.  It was a very special gift. He pushed me to have greater trust in those around me, and it really helped. It takes a village to help get through something like this.”

Hope for the future

Affectionately known by other Hispanic staff members at the Children’s as their “Latin brother”, Andy Jr. now makes the most of his bi-weekly visits to the Hematology-Oncology Division by cracking jokes with his physicians, Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Abish, and playing games with Anna, Child Life Specialist. “Everyone here loves Andy!” says his mom with a smile. “It’s been a difficult journey but I feel so supported by everyone around us. It’s so encouraging.”