Overcoming the Unthinkable: Cancer Diagnosis and Family Loss – JAF Was There to Help

Paisley B.

In the beginning, the sight of small bruises on then-three-year-old Paisley in October 2018 was chalked up to being the average kid who loved jumping off things. When small red spots started appearing on the little Chelmsford, MA native’s arm, that’s when Paisley’s mom, Kristen, took action.

Kristen brought her to the local pediatrician and was originally told it was nothing to worry about. The next day, Paisley seemed even less like herself.

“For that [entire] day I noticed her not walking right,” Kristen said. “She was favoring one side of her body and was having trouble going up the stairs.”

Another trip to the doctor was made, with Paisley this time getting x-rays and bloodwork done. While the x-ray results were good, the blood tests showed Paisley’s platelet count was extremely low. The doctors advised Kristen to bring Paisley to Tufts Children’s Hospital in Boston to do more bloodwork.

The thought of it being cancer hadn’t become real yet according to Kristen. She mentioned the Tufts doctors told her Paisley could have anything from a blood infection to cancer but wouldn’t know until a biopsy was done.

“At the time, I thought they were saying cancer because they had to,” said Kristen. “It wasn’t until they brought us up to the bone marrow transplant unit that night at 11 p.m. that I thought oh wow this really might be cancer.”

The bone marrow biopsy that night revealed Paisley’s diagnosis of B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL)—a type of cancer in the bone marrow and blood. The diagnosis flipped the entire family’s life upside down, with Kristen describing it as a ‘whirlwind’ of emotions and trying to figure out the next steps for Paisley.

Paisley immediately started a nine-month frontline treatment that was broken up into six different portions of chemotherapy. For the first 44 days, Paisley received in-patient care at Tufts with Kristen by her side.

A week into starting her care, Paisley became septic due to her chemotherapy port being infected with bacteria, and had to undergo emergency surgery to remove it. Right before Paisley went into the operating room, tragedy struck the family as Paisley’s father unexpectedly passed away. Amidst the shock of losing her husband hours ago, Kristen somehow remained focused on a successful procedure for Paisley. Thankfully, the surgeons were able to remove Paisley’s port and put in a new one.

“That was a close call,” Kristen said. “That was probably one of the scariest moments during Paisley’s treatment.”

Paisley’s health was shortly back on the upswing, and she continued her treatment path. Her care plan soon shifted where she would go to the hospital three times a week for treatment.

Being at the hospital for long stretches can be emotionally draining for anyone, especially for a little girl like Paisley. However, Kristen explained how the stay at Tufts became a positive one emotionally.

“We made so many friends there and got to know all the nurses on the floor,” said Kristen. “They had child life specialists that would come in and do arts and crafts with her.”

After getting support from extended family and friends, the stress cancer financially brings began to gradually increase. With the family’s income now solely on Kristen’s shoulders, she started worrying. The bills for house utilities such as electricity and heat piled up along with car payments.

The social workers at Tufts knew of the family’s financial hardship. After talking with Kristen, they suggested reaching out to the Joe Andruzzi Foundation (JAF) for assistance. Through JAF’s Financial Assistance, Kristen was able to keep the lights on, and the house warm, and put the focus back on supporting Paisley.

“It was so awesome,” Kristen said. “It’s a lot going into the hospital and trying to plan for the day. It became less things to worry about and not thinking about how you’re going to pay the bills for the next couple of weeks.”

With their connection to the Foundation, the family enjoys the fun of JAF’s (Up)Beat Opportunities. (Up)Beat events are special occasions for patients and their families to have fun, relax, and not have to think about treatment, even if just for a day. In the summer of 2022, Paisley and the family went to JAF’s (Up)Beat event on the Codzilla Thrill Ride along the Boston Harbor.

“She had no idea what it was originally,” said Kristen. “So she was pleasantly surprised and had so much fun.”

Paisley has been through a lot on her four-year cancer journey, but that hasn’t stopped the now seven-year-old from having fun—including becoming a cheerleader and having a blast.

“She’s definitely determined and loves to do the best in school and cheerleading,” Kristen said. “She’s my superhero and I’m so proud of her.”

Everyone at JAF is cheering Paisley on as she moves forward on her cancer journey with her bubbly personality and strong will.

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