Pediatric Cancer Care Close to Home

It’s the region’s only pediatric oncology treatment center. More importantly, it offers the same treatment protocols for children with cancer as any leading cancer treatment center in the world. And for hundreds of local families facing a childhood cancer diagnosis, T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital is a godsend.

“Parents have enough stress in their lives when their child has been diagnosed with cancer, so anything that can be done to relieve that stress is vital,” says Herb Cohn, whose grandson, Ethan Cohen, 17, is currently undergoing cancer treatment at Children’s Hospital. “We have heard of so many cases where both spouses worked and out-of-town treatment presented a real hardship – from work issues, room and board, to the logistics of long-distance transportation,” he said. “We have a world-class facility right here with highly-trained, highly respected pediatric oncologists.”

Saving Lives in Countless Ways

By Pat Charles

Quest for the Best

In their quest for the best treatment for Ethan, his parents, Dr. Jon and Amy Cohen of Signal Mountain, discovered that Children’s Hospital in Chattanooga is a member of Children’s Oncology Group (COG). This affiliation means T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital is one of 200 hospitals worldwide that is dedicated solely to treating childhood cancer through the latest therapies and clinical trials. A child undergoing cancer treatment here at Children’s Hospital is assured of getting the same treatment as a pediatric cancer patient in any of the world’s largest cities or medical centers.

“Every one of our cancer patients has a treatment plan developed specifically for him or her,” explains Children’s Hospital pediatric oncologist, Dr. Jennifer Keates. “Each treatment plan is designed by the COG team of international experts on each different form of childhood cancer, and goes through many layers of federal government and local approval before being offered to a particular child.”

According to Dr. Keates, the COG monitors each child’s progress as Children’s Hospital administers the plan and maintains constant quality control measures before, during and after treatment.

 Proximity to Family and Friends

In addition to access to a leading-edge treatment center like Children’s Hospital, proximity to an extended support system cannot be underestimated. “When your child has to have ongoing treatment sessions, it is so essential to have family and friends who are able to offer support,” stresses Mr. Cohn, who considers it a privilege and blessing to help with his grandson’s treatment schedule. Unlike a distant treatment center with no nearby support system, “the family and child can almost carry on a regular routine when treatment is available close to home, particularly when family and friends are available to help,” he said. Because treatment and family are nearby, Ethan is on track to graduate with the rest of his class this year, says his grateful grandfather.

 Hometown Support

Another distinct advantage of nearby cancer treatment is the opportunity to develop close relationships and a support system with other local residents. Ethan, for example, became a mentor and friend to another local cancer patient, Cody Allen. The seven year- old son of Aaron and April Allen, of Rossville, Ga., Cody was diagnosed with rhabdomyoscarcoma a few weeks after Ethan received his diagnosis. “We had the same cancer, in the same location, and are on the same treatment protocol,” said Ethan, who took Cody under his wing and began visiting him on a regular basis.

Since Ethan is a few weeks ahead of Cody in treatment, he is able to explain what the young boy can expect, offering encouragement and alleviating fears. “The staff will take good care of you,” he assured Cody during one of their early conversations. “They’ll help you get through it.”

Like Mr. Cohn, Cody’s father cannot say enough about the benefits of close-to-home care. “We are so grateful we didn’t have to travel even an hour for Cody’s treatments,” he said, also expressing gratitude for the support of both Ethan and the treatment team at Children’s Hospital oncology treatment center.

 Relationships with Caregivers

Also key to a positive treatment experience is developing deep connections with caregivers and doctors. Children’s Hospital has several physicians who specialize in pediatric oncology, including the region’s only radiation oncologist who treats childhood cancers. These dedicated physicians are part of a team which includes pediatric surgeons, nurses, child-life therapists, nutritionists, pathologists, pharmacists, psychologists, and other healthcare professionals who are experts at treating children with cancer.

This dream team of caregivers shares a special bond with their patients and often become part of their extended “family” as well. Dr. Jeffrey Gefter, the region’s only pediatric radiation oncologist, has become so fond of patients Ethan and Cody that he has a framed photo of them hanging on his office wall.

Eighteen-year old Misty Lacey, who was diagnosed with osteogenic scarcoma of the left thigh and underwent cancer treatment here, grew so close to the staff that she served as a junior volunteer at Children’s Hospital. She continues to spend time at the pediatric oncology center, entertaining and talking with other cancer patients and their families.

Georgia teenager, Turner Fordham, has also become close to her team of caregivers, including pediatric oncologist, Dr. Eric Gratias, with whom she played golf in a 2007 tournament fund-raiser on behalf of Children’s Hospital. Turner’s parents, Donna and Louis Fordham, have developed a deep affection for pediatric oncologist Dr. Manoo Bhakta, who reassured them from the day of Turner’s leukemia diagnosis that “they were going to take good care of her and get her through this.” Like many other patient families, the Whitfield County couple attribute their daughter’s amazing progress over the last 2 years to the devotion of her local physicians and caregivers.

Three year-old twins, Logan and Morgan McBrayer, have also developed extremely strong ties with their caregivers while receiving treatment for leukemia at Children’s Hospital. It is not unusual for the Trenton, Georgia toddlers to be seen playing on the floor with pediatric oncologists, Drs. Gratias and Bhakta, on treatment days. And when they celebrated their third birthday last summer, several members of their treatment team attended the party. For their mother, Tammy, who gave up two jobs to maintain the twins’ treatment schedules, close-to-home care and close ties with caregivers have been essential in easing her burdens.

Tammy’s feelings of gratitude are echoed by Ethan’s grandfather. “I can’t say enough about the importance of having world-class care right here in Chattanooga,” says Mr. Cohn. “The decision to stay here for Ethan’s treatment is what saved us.”