Since his cancer diagnosis in the summer of 2012 third-grader Shane Rogers and his family have kept their eyes on the prize — stay the course and knockout leukemia one strong punch at a time.
Back pain during a family reunion led to the shocking news the otherwise vibrant boy had Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia — a cancer of the white blood cells where excess lymphoblasts overcrowd the bone marrow. Mom Kristen Rogers recently sat down with Village Life and explained though Shane has crossed a grueling, physical fight of one battle they’re barely midway through the war.
“Leukemia is different than other cancers,” said Kristen. “You can get it to go away quickly, but keeping it at bay is the toughest part. If you don’t continue with chemo it will just come back.”
In March 2013 the family began what Kristen called “survival mode.” Before then Shane endured treatments so taxing he had frequent hospital stays and was so weak he had to be pulled out of Silva Valley Elementary.
Now he’s in maintenance mode, yet “what ifs” often create a mental weight just as challenging as the physical strain of survival mode, said Kristen. “When you move into maintenance you don’t want to put your guard down. We believe staying positive has a lot to do with how well Shane does so we try hard not to think of the bad things that could pop up,” she explained.
Boys with ALL are in treatment typically for three-and-a-half years and girls for two-and-a-half. While the overall cure rate for ALL in children is 80 percent, Shane won’t be considered in remission until five years after his last treatment, she added.
In maintenance mode some people don’t see a child still fighting. Shane, 9, continues to take an oral dose of chemotherapy daily and travels to UC Davis monthly for chemo through a port in his chest, and via his spine quarterly. Yet Shane’s hair has grown back as his body has adjusted to the medications. “He doesn’t walk around with that sign … I have cancer,” said Kristen. “People might think he looks healthy on the outside and isn’t dealing with it anymore, but that’s very far from the truth.”
Because of the steroids Shane takes five days a month in combination with chemotherapy, he developed steroid induced diabetes. “The steroids cause his blood sugar to spike so he must take insulin,” Kristen explained. “The other days he doesn’t take steroids his blood sugar can dive dangerously low, which creates its own vicious circle.”
Because Shane missed so much school last year they decided to have him repeat third grade, though long school days wipe him out so he is often released one hour earlier than his peers.
Through it all, “Things are headed in the right direction,” said Kristen. “I constantly work to keep my worries in check, but I also don’t want to ignore things either. Cancer doesn’t happen to every kid on the block but when it comes to your doorstep you think of things differently. That can take you down the negative road.”
Recently Shane’s 4-year-old sister was tested for leukemia when she developed petechial (little red spots under the skin caused by broken capillaries) on her chest. “Even though I know the petechial could’ve been caused by lots of things, like her car seat, I was nervous because it’s a symptom.” During the same time Reese had bad stomach-aches and was vomiting. A blood test came back clean, but after consulting with her pediatrician, they will annually test her blood.
“Reese’s chances are a lot higher because she’s a sibling,” said Kristen. “That is always toward the top of my list of fears. Every day I have my moments but I have to balance that and pull myself out of negative thoughts.”
Kristen left her full-time job as a pharmaceutical rep and is now a full-time at-home mom. “There’s no way I could’ve stayed focused on a fulltime job,” she said.
It’s been challenging, but she’s grateful husband Sean has been able to support their family. “Things are tight but we’re doing the best with what we have,” she added.
They won’t put their guard down until Shane is in remission. “We want to have as normal a life as possible even though we have a long road ahead of us,” she said.
In the meantime Shane remains positive and enjoys being creative with Legos and playing basketball with neighborhood friends.
Kristen said she looks to a bright future and has big plans for it, but needs to make sure her family is strong first. She envisions her platform will be to draw attention to childhood cancers and she also wants to educate others about the importance of healthy eating.
“I’d like to do my best to make it simple for parents to consistently feed their kids healthy foods,” she said of the shift her family has made to eating foods that “promote health” as much as possible since Shane’s diagnosis. “We did it because we want to be sure we do everything we can so Shane doesn’t relapse.”
Kristen still rallies for blood donations and people may still donate blood at Blood Source in Folsom in Shane’s name, account 0474.
Supportive well wishes through Shane’s Village on Facebook and the “amazing, continued community support” have buoyed the family during their hardest days. “The community has never stopped supporting us and after we’re back on our feet we want to help others,” she said. “I could be doing a lot more right now, but at the risk of my own family I need to make sure our foundation is solid and then move toward helping others.”
Through it all Kristen has learned many things about what’s really important in life, but her key takeaway is a message she hopes her two children will realize. “Show them you can have your feet knocked out from under you, but get back up and take charge again,” she said. “Stay positive, move forward and give back.”