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Town rallies to help sick boy

Cayden Whalen, who turned 4 on Tuesday, Jan. 8, knows more than any child should know about chemotherapy.

On good days, the gregarious preschooler flexes his muscles and says, I have chemo power.

His battle with childhood leukemia began last fall when he began feeling ill. Doctors told his father, Shane, who he lives with, that it was Coxsackie virus.

Symptoms of leukemia in kids, such as fatigue, swollen glands and diminished appetite, can mimic simple infections, but Cayden didn't bounce back the way doctors expected.

"When he didn't get better over the course of several days, his doctor started doing blood tests, and things started showing up immediately," said Cayden's aunt, Kelley Aschmutat of Ballston Spa.

Kelley and her brother, Joe Whalen, who is highway superintendent for the town of Ballston, are organizing a fundraiser for Cayden and his family to take place this Saturday, Jan. 19, from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Ballston Spa Elks Club. The event will include a dinner buffet, live music and several raffles.

Cayden is now receiving chemotherapy treatments weekly at the Albany Medical Center child cancer center. On the days Cayden doesn't receive chemo, Shane, who works for Shaker Lumber Trucking in Latham, drives him to Albany for weekly blood work.

"The gas alone to travel to Albany is a huge expense for my brother," said Aschmutat.

Some rounds of chemo are given to Cayden through a port installed in his chest; others are injected directly into his spine. The child is on steroids to bulk up his small frame, but despite all the heavy medications, he remains chipper and outgoing.

"When I saw him last week, he asked me to chase him around," said Aschmutat. "He wants to be a regular kid and play."

Cayden's prognosis is good; a full 80 percent of children receiving treatment go into remission, and after that, the odds are 85 percent he won't experience a return of the illness in his lifetime. That's the good news. The downside is that the child will undergo treatment for three years.

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