Sometimes, it’s easy to forget about the leukemia.
Zane Davidson’s life has returned to the familiar beats of a 12-year-old kid. He plays soccer with his friends, loves to be outdoors and goes to class every day with his fellow seventh-grade students.
His once shaved head is now full of thick, brown hair.
But he can’t escape his cancer for long. Just as he has since 2014, Zane has to deal with the daily chemotherapy medications, that up-and-down feeling of sickness that it causes, and the monthly visits to the hospital.
The most difficult part is knowing that he has more than a year left before his treatment is done for good.
“I was so young when it started,” he said. “I was 10, and I’ll be 13 when it’s over. That’s what is hard.”
More than two years have passed since Zane was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastomic leukemia.
He has endured the vicious ups and downs of near constant chemotherapy — nausea, vomiting and neuropathy, a nerve disorder that causes the sensation of pins and needles.
Some days he suffers from headaches, stomach cramps and fatigue. More and more frequently, he feels good.
The treatment is working. The leukemia is in remission, but to be certain that it doesn’t return, his chemotherapy will continue until late 2017. Zane has a hard time remembering what life was like without cancer, and that has given him a unique outlook every day when he wakes up.
“Be grateful in what you have in not being sick. Live it up,” he said.
Zane was 10 years old when he started complaining that his body hurt. He would get tired easily, lost his appetite and would suffer through bouts of pain in his legs, chest and back. At times, he hurt so badly he had to crawl to move around.
“That was so difficult. I’d rather be the person to take all of his pain away. As a parent, that’s what you want for your kids,” said Susan Davidson, Zane’s mother.
The Davidson family made multiple trips to the emergency room over that time, panicked about the deterioration of Zane’s condition. Each time, doctors provided a different diagnosis on what was wrong — growing pains, severe heartburn, a virus attacking his muscles.
It wasn’t until June that the culprit was identified. On the last day of fourth grade, Zane had been hit in the chest with a water balloon, and compared it to being hit with a bomb, the pain was so intense. He ended up coming home, napping shortly, then woke up vomiting.
“That’s when it got really bad,” Susan Davidson said.
Another emergency room visit followed, with another blood test. This time, Zane’s blood contained a preponderance of cancer cells. The bone pain had been an early sign of leukemia, and doctors had caught the disease early.
Acute lymphoblastomic leukemia is an aggressive, dangerous type of cancer. Because it forms in the blood and bone marrow, it can quickly spread throughout the body, particularly harming the brain.
So oncologists at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health mapped out an equally intensive plan to attack it. For four or five days at a time, Zane was admitted to the hospital for a chemotherapy regiment that wiped his immune system clean.
The medication was effective at destroying the cancerous leukemia cells but also wreaked havoc on his body.
“His cancer was very close to being in a worse category, so they tacked on an extra six weeks of treatment on the front end, so they could be sure to get it,” Susan Davidson said. “Then they added an extra year because he’s a boy and because he was very high risk.”
In children such as Zane, the five-year survival rate for leukemia is 85 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. When they reach that level, it becomes increasingly rare for the cancer to return.
But key to meeting that prognosis is to follow through with the entirety of the treatment, Susan Davidson said.
“Leukemia tends to come back. It can stay asleep for a long time, and if you don’t take the medicine right, it can come back,” she said.
The most intense chemotherapy lasted nearly one year. Because the treatment wiped out his immune system, Zane was at constant threat from even common diseases.
Most of the time, he was restricted to his house. School was out of the question, and it was rare he could even go with his parents to the grocery store or a restaurant.
That was frustrating for a 10-year-old to understand, Susan Davidson said.
But Zane and his family weathered the worst of the treatment. Since emerging from the initial aggressive chemotherapy blast, life has taken on a more normal rhythm.
Every month, he has to go back for observation, testing and chemotherapy. The most recent treatment is a combination of vincristine, used to block the division of cancer cells and halt its growth, as well as the immune-system suppressant prednisone.
Zane still has to take oral medications each day that do the same things, both interrupting the biology of the cancer cells while keeping his body’s natural defenses at bay.
While the more intense chemotherapy he received at the start of treatment left him nearly wiped out physically and mentally, this current round is more mild.
Most of the time, the only side effect is some stomach discomfort, Zane said.
“It’s nowhere near as bad as it was,” he said.
He is able to go to school almost every day at Indian Creek Middle School. Bad days still slow him down, and if the reaction to the chemotherapy is particularly strong, he’ll stay home to recover. But the only other time he has to miss is when he has appointments.
Zane has his friends over to play, and runs around outside with them, throwing a football and riding bikes. He played soccer in the spring, and this year he and his family went hiking in Whitewater Gorge Park in Richmond.
Over the summer, he earned his jet ski operators license. For weeks, he studied proper water safety, watercraft operation and what to do in case of an emergency.
By mid-July, he was zooming around Prince’s Lakes on a Sea Doo.
“I can pretty much do everything that I did before,” he said.
Date diagnosed: June 2014
Type of cancer: Acute lymphoblastomic leukemia
Treatment: Intensive chemotherapy from June 2014 to March 2015; a milder dosage of chemotherapy from April 2015 to late 2017.
What did cancer teach you?
“Be grateful in what you have in not being sick. Live it up.”
How has cancer changed you?
“I’m more grateful for what I have.”
What would you tell someone just diagnosed with cancer?
“Try and get through it. Don’t ever give up on it.”