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How honesty is helping Hunter fight leukemia

Last Modified: 5/22/2018

Hunter Schermerhorn was a typical young, athletic boy, until an unexpected leukemia diagnosis put him on a different path. Tonight, through The Make-a-Wish Foundation®, this brave 10-year-old from Avilla will throw out the first pitch at The Fort Wayne TinCaps game. Hunter’s mom, Rhonda, was kind enough to share his story with us here.

Hunter was diagnosed with leukemia in September 2015.

He was in 3rd grade, and was actively involved in sports. He loves baseball and football. During his football season that year, he was really struggling on the field.  We thought it was because he’d moved to an older age group. But then he started experiencing muscle pain and bruising easily. 

One day his teacher called me and asked if I could come pick him up because he didn’t look good. She thought he might be jaundice. I took Hunter to the doctor to have him checked out and get a doctor’s note. I didn’t think it was a big deal. But he had a fever, which seemed like a symptom of something more than a football injury, so the doctor decided to run some labs.

It came back as leukemia.

He needed 2 units of blood and they were sending us to Riley Children’s Hospital the next day. There, they did a bone marrow harvest to see what kind of leukemia he had and formed a treatment plan. He got a port put into his chest to receive treatment and we were told his treatment journey would span the next three years. He would be on chemo until November 2018.

We were discharged after a typical 5-day visit at Riley and home for 24 hours before he had issues due to a low blood count and reaction to chemo.  He had an infection in his stomach. We went back to Riley and Hunter ended up on life support for a week. His intestines were perforated, and had to have 6 inches removed.

We stayed at Riley for 2 ½ months with these complications. We were discharged in November and he’s been in physical therapy ever since trying to get his strength back. Chemo takes so much muscle away and he’s having bone density issues from lying in the hospital for so long.

With leukemia, they give you high doses of chemo to get you into remission within the first 30 days, so he’s been considered “in remission” since a month after he was diagnosed. But because leukemia can come back so easily, they suggested this 3-year plan. He was given very intense chemo for 10 months, and now we go once a month for maintenance treatment, which he will receive until we hit that 3-year mark in 2018. After that, he’ll go every 3-6 months to check in. But their prognosis is he will lead a normal life, go back to his activities, and be able to participate as much as he did before all this, with the hope it doesn’t come back.

Hunter is very optimistic about overcoming cancer, but he certainly struggles with watching other kids his age. Being the athletic kid he was, it’s hard for him to sit the bench at practice. He was the starting pitcher and now he doesn’t have the energy to get out there. It’s temporary, but it’s a lot for a 10-year-old to understand. It’s tough to look three years down the road and know this is going to get better.

Looking back, I see red flags, and I think, “How did I miss this?” But I just never looked at my kids and assumed they had cancer. I just never even considered it. But he would ask to ride in the grocery cart at the store because he was tired. I just blew it off because I thought nothing of it. But you hear those words – “It’s leukemia” –  and you just don’t see it coming. You don’t know how to react. I didn’t want to scare him, but as a mom, it was so hard to hear.

My husband had to work so we still had insurance, and we had a 13-year-old daughter who was still in school with activities, and all of that was completely uprooted. The two months I was at Riley with Hunter, it was family and the community that helped get us through. As a multitasking mom who takes care of everyone’s schedule, it throws you for a loop. I was so busy trying to fix it all, that it wasn’t until months down the road that it really hit me.

I allow Hunter to have his bad days. The amount of strength he has considering everything he’s been through is amazing. We practice honesty, even at the hardest times. I have been completely honest about what was to come, what they are going to do to his body, so he can feel like he can tell me anything. My hope is he always feels comfortable and can come to me. What they go through is scary, but he’s never been afraid. He’s very accepting. He knows what’s going to happen because I’ve prepared him. I can’t always give him good news, and it’s not that I don’t want to give him good news, but he’s dealing with an adult situation. He needs to know what to do to get through it. It’s rough, but it’s worked for us.

Hunter doesn’t just have cancer. This whole family does. We’ve all adapted this lifestyle, and all decisions are made based on what’s best for him. There’s nothing he’s going to go through that we won’t go through with him. We will always be by his side.



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