Pediatric Cancer: Patient Stories

Get to know some of the cancer patients and families who’ve received life-changing care at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.

Survivor’s mindset

Zion Thompson loves science, playing with her baby sister and singing every chance she gets.

A few years ago, Zion had to take a break from her favorite activities. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. After four rounds of chemotherapy plus radiation therapy, her cancer team recommended that Zion have more intensive treatment.

“I feel like the doctors at Doernbecher are fighting for us and with us,” her mom says.

Zion says: “Throughout all this, people have called me lots of kind things, like ‘courageous’ and ‘strong.’ But out of all of them, ‘survivor’ is the word that feels the most empowering, because it reminds me that I’ll get through this.” Learn more about Zion.

Swinging for the fences

Golf enthusiast Bransen “Boom” Fernando was diagnosed with kidney cancer at 7 months old. He managed to live nearly 12 years with half a kidney before it started to fail.

“Doernbecher was the one place that we could do a kidney transplant — my only place that I would have allowed to do a kidney transplant,” says his mom, Christina.

Nearly a dozen people stepped up as donors, and his dad’s CrossFit coach, Melissa, turned out to be a nearly perfect match.

These days, Bransen keeps busy playing with his dogs Bonnie and Bosco, practicing his golf swing and catching up with Melissa. He calls her his kidney mom: “She’s a part of the family now.” Learn more about Bransen.

Full of life

A young boy holding a fishing pole on the shore of a river next to a boat.

Eli Razor, the eldest of four, is a sweet and playful leader in his family. But at age 2, Eli was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia (APML). His bone marrow was full of cancer.

At Doernbecher, he got a new treatment that targets and blocks cancer cells without harming normal cells. But because his condition is uncommon in toddlers, Eli’s doctors weren’t sure he would respond as well as older kids.

“We were a little bit on pins and needles, and certainly the family was, realizing that this was so rare,” says Dr. Linda Stork, Eli’s oncologist and an expert in childhood cancers.

Five weeks later they had an answer: Cancer cells had dropped from 80% of his bone marrow to less than 1%.

Eli’s parents, Russ and Shani, say his treatment gave their family a new perspective on life: “We love harder because of it.” See a video about Eli.

Lifesaving therapy

A photo of a young boy outside on a sunny day smiling.

When he was 8, Macario Martinez’s mom noticed that he wasn’t his usual self. He was more tired. His heart was beating rapidly. He had trouble breathing.

She took Macario, who goes by “Macky,” to a hospital. His doctors suspected leukemia and sent him by ambulance to Doernbecher. Tests showed he had B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

The vast majority of children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia enter remission within a month after chemotherapy. But Macky was different. Two months and several rounds of chemo later, he was still sick.

His Doernbecher team suggested CAR T-cell therapy — a form of immunotherapy in which his own blood cells would be genetically engineered to attack the leukemia cells. “I like to think of the modified cells as PAC-MAN eating all of the bad cancer cells,” his mom said.

Learn how this groundbreaking treatment helped Macky get his life back.

Henry’s wish

When he was 16, Henry Hernandez got a teddy bear as a gift. Some teens might have felt too old for a stuffed animal, but he welcomed it.

Henry was at Doernbecher to get a tumor removed. He often felt anxious in the hospital.

Then his nurse handed him the bear. “For a moment everything felt all right,” he recalls in an interview with KGW.

When Henry had the chance to work with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, he decided to share that sense of comfort. His wish was to donate dozens of teddy bears to Doernbecher cancer patients like himself.

“I personally don't need anything,” he says. “I have a beautiful family and the fact I’m here right now is kind of all I need.”

His generosity earned Henry an Amazing Oregonian award from Gov. Kate Brown.

A lifelong journey

A female doctor stands in front of a woman sitting on a hospital exam table and listens to her heart using a stethoscope.

Katherine Breithaupt beat leukemia as a child but still comes to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital for checkups.

“Being cancer-free doesn’t mean the end of a medical journey,” says Dr. Sue Lindemulder, who leads Doernbecher’s cancer survivorship clinic. “It is often the start of a brand-new chapter of health care that could last a lifetime.”

Childhood cancer treatment is very effective. But it can also cause long-term health issues such as heart disease, infertility, or bone and joint problems.

That’s why Breithaupt visits the clinic every four years. “While I may still have a long road ahead of me, my health is less of a mystery,” she says. “I’m able to live my best possible life, cancer-free.”

Discover how Doernbecher’s survivorship clinic helps patients manage life after childhood cancer.

An army of support

In rehab after being hit by a drunken driver, Ellie Shorter noticed a lump on her neck. A closer look revealed it was a symptom of the blood cancer Hodgkin lymphoma.

Her friends and teammates at Canby High School rallied around the junior soccer captain, calling themselves “Ellie’s Army.” Their motto: “Fight together.”

And fight they did — arranging online fundraisers, community events and selling T-shirts to help with Ellie’s medical bills. “It makes it so much easier knowing I am not alone,” Ellie said in an interview with KPTV. Read the full story.

Strength and optimism

Dario’s journey has certainly been a challenging one—when he received a bone marrow transplant seven years ago to treat his leukemia, his body attacked the donor cells, resulting in severe chronic lung disease.

However, no matter how Dario is feeling or what he’s dealing with, he always has a smile and a “How are you doing today?” for everyone he meets. While Dario says he draws strength and optimism from his family, his mom Rosa says it’s the other way around. “He has really taught us a lot about perseverance,” she said. “On the days I don’t feel strong, I just follow his example and it lifts my spirits up.”

Dario was one of the 2022 Doernbecher Freestyle designers. Learn more about his story and his Freestyle designs in this video.

For families

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700 S.W. Campus Drive
Portland, OR 97239
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