When Ava Christianson was 4 years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia. As her leukemia was the most common and treatable kind (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) of cancer, the Christiansons were told that they had a good chance of beating the cancer. For over 90% of children, chemotherapy is all that they need.
“So, 90%, you feel pretty darn good that you’re ok,” her mother Bethany told The Washington Post. However, after a brief remission period, the cancer relapsed.
That led them to a bone marrow transplant—something they were told would have an 80-85% chance of curing her. The cancer still returned.
“Five years ago, our doctor would have just had to tell us to go home”
Thankfully, researchers in the field of immunotherapy have been making groundbreaking discoveries that have made it possible for them to treat patients who wouldn’t have stood a chance otherwise.
“Five years ago, our doctor would have just had to tell us to go home,” Bethany said. “So we were just really happy that we just had another option.”
Thanks to an experimental treatment known as CAR-T which boosts a patient’s immune system, Ava is cancer-free—for now.
On the next page: more about this revolutionary treatment.
As MIT Technology Review summed up, there are two major concerns with the CAR-T therapy:
- It is dangerous—its clinical trials have caused deaths. But for most of the patients, the risk is worth it, considering the possibility of being cancer-free.
- Cancer can still come back. As CAR-T is still a new therapy, no one knows how long the effects will last.
“It gets to a point where you’re like, ‘we need to figure this out’, and you just keep searching and doing,” said Ava’s father Jay. “Luckily we’ve been led here and hopefully this is our last stop for her and it fixes it.”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
“We just need this to work and stay working for her,” said Bethany. “For half her life we’ve been dealing with this, and she takes it in stride. She’s just been through more than any adult I know. I just want her to be healthy and happy and just do whatever she wants to do.
“I just want her to be a kid. She has missed out on a lot of that.”
Ava is back in school, but will be closely monitored for years.
READ: WATCH: Dad with stage 4 cancer leaves ICU to witness son’s birth
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