Helping kids beat cancer...so they can be kids again!
When Mason Rotering was born in 2010, he was diagnosed with Down syndrome and a heart defect. He also had early problems with his thyroid, hearing and low muscle tone. As if these challenges weren't enough, when Mason was just 3 years old, "we heard the words no parent wants to hear,: recall Danielle (Danie) and Kevin.
"Just three days before Christmas, we learned Mason had cancer. He received his first dose of chemo the day after Christmas," they remember vividly.
Every year in the United States nearly 15,000 children are diagnosed with cancer before age 20. About 25 percent of these cases are lymphoblastic leukemia, which is what Mason had.
Hope close to home
The Roterings turned to Gundersen for Mason's cancer care. "We are fortunate and blessed that Gundersen is close to our home. The doctors were always there when we needed them—even if we called in the middle of the night," says Danie.
Gundersen provides full-service pediatric oncology care, meaning children and adolescents with any type of cancer can be treated. Specially trained pediatric cancer doctors and nurses work with experts in multiple areas to meet the needs of children and their families. The extended team includes: Child Life, Social Services, Spiritual Care, Behavioral Health, Nutrition Therapy, Pet Therapy and Palliative Care.
"There is no easy part when you have cancer, but having this amazing support staff always around you made getting through the hard days a little bit easier. They always made sure Mason had the best care possible," says Danie.
Care for the entire family
Recreation therapist Cheri Hill, whom Mason calls his best friend, says, "Childhood cancer is a family disease carried out in a child's body. For this reason, we spend a lot of time focusing on the needs of the entire family."
"We know our patients are going through a lot. Sometimes they just want to talk because their friends and family don't understand. We are fortunate to be able to spend extra time with them at appointments," says pediatric medical oncologist Toni Peters, MD, MS.
The team also organizes quarterly outings to encourage networking among past and current patients/families, offers classroom visits, the Ronald McDonald play area, peer mentoring and a child life program.
Back to being a kid
The Pediatric Oncology team stayed by Mason's side through 26 months of treatment; hundreds of port accesses, clinic visits and IVs; 30 spinal taps and several hospitals stays. Today, the Roterings are proud to say he is cancer free.
"This is the first summer that Mason got to act like a kid again. He got to play with his friends and cousins and didn't have to worry if his germ-fighting numbers were too low; he attended other kids' birthday parties; he played t-ball; and went to vacation bible school. He recently started Kindergarten and loves it!" says Danie.
"Mason is thriving after finishing treatment," says Dr. Peters. "With cure rates better than 80 percent for all types of childhood cancer, pediatric cancer is one of the great success stories of modern medicine. It's a real testament to what research can do and the power of collaboration between hospitals—just like ours."