Six months ago, Gina Poe's 14-year-old, Sam, started experiencing fever, night sweats, and swollen lymph nodes in his neck. Initially, their pediatrician thought Sam had an infection, so he prescribed antibiotics. When swelling continued for several months, they were referred to a specialist who ordered further tests and imaging.
One week after celebrating his 14th birthday, Sam was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, cancer that causes abnormal cell growth in the lymphatic system.
“When we received test results, we were in disbelief,” Gina said. “I had never heard of Hodgkin lymphoma before in my life. The last thing you want to consider when your child is sick is that it’s cancer.”
With limited pediatric cancer resources in Panama City, Gina sought care from pediatric cancer experts at Studer Family Children's Hospital. During a virtual visit with pediatric hematologist/oncologist, Dr. Erlyn Smith, Gina learned that Sam’s cancer had spread beyond his lymph nodes.
The news was devastating, but Dr. Smith provided a ray of hope. She informed Sam's family that he qualified for a clinical trial evaluating a new treatment: a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
"Clinical trials are not the exception, they are the standard of care for childhood cancers,” Schwartz said. “We are excited to offer children in our region the best treatments available anywhere.”
Sam received monthly treatments over a period of six months. There were significant improvements to his health after each round of therapy.
A cancer diagnosis can be an isolating experience, but Gina said her family found reassurance through online support groups.
“The care we received was amazing,” Gina said. “The doctors and nurses were always there to answer questions no matter what time it was. I don't have the words to express how valuable these caregivers have been for my son and what treasures they are for our community.”
Dr. Schwartz said the care team is focused on doing what’s right for the child and the family. “Whether it’s at Children’s Hospital or somewhere else, we will do what’s necessary for patients to get the right cancer care they need,” he said.
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