"It's way more than bald headed babies" - The raw and honest side of cancer treatment

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) “It's way more than just bald headed babies” – Ashley Sanborn

Liam Sanborn is this year's featured hero for the Madison Area Light the Night Event. Liam is four-years-old and is an ALL survivor and a CML fighter.

Shining a light on the darkness of cancer – that’s what the Leukemia and Lymphoma society of Wisconsin is doing with its annual Light the Night Walk. For the last 70 years, LLS has been working to raise funds for research of new therapies and treatments for blood cancers.

On Thursday, at Warner Park in Madison, attendees are invited to enjoy music, network with other LLS volunteers, and hear inspirational stories – including one from this year’s honored hero, Liam Sanborn.
Liam is 4 years old. At just 11 months, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). He was in and out of hospitals. He ended his maintenance nearly two years later on December 14, 2017. But the celebration didn’t last long.

Less than four weeks later, Liam was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). A cancer that is rarely found in children and is more common in adults.

“The deck is stacked against us,” said Ashley Sanborn, Liam’s mother. “Liam has exhausted a lot of his options.”

Sanborn remembers the doctors laying out the options when Liam’s journey first began. There were just three options.
“He succeeded through option one, but immediately got a new cancer diagnosis,” she said.

That eliminated one option. She remembers the heartbreaking feeling of losing ‘two card hands in one day.’

“We are now doing chemo, and we have one option left,” said Sanborn.

If the chemo fails, the final option is a transplant. It’s something Sanborn says is very dangerous and can be fatal because it essentially leaves Liam without an immune system.

In late September, the Sanborns invited NBC15’s Amy Pflugshaupt and photojournalist Curt Lenz to follow along one of their treatments at the American Family’s Children Hospital.
Liam was undergoing a bone marrow biopsy, something Dr. Carol Diamond said is a very common procedure in hematology and oncology. In the last 17 years, Dr. Diamond said she’s seen the treatment options change drastically. For a procedure like a bone marrow biopsy, she said new sedation procedures keep children more comfortable now.

She said the biopsy starts with making sure Liam is asleep and comfortable.

“Then I prepare the back with some special soap,” said Dr. Diamond. “And put a small needle into his hip bone.”

She then takes about a teaspoon or so of the soft part of the bone, called marrow. She then uses the same needle to get a small part of the bone and marrow.

“We look at that under the microscope. We see if there are any abnormal cells and do some special tests on it to see if there is any evidence of residual leukemia,” said Dr. Diamond.

Dr. Diamond explained that Liam’s type of cancer – CML – is quite rare in children and more common in adults. She said CML accounts for “probably 5 percent” of the overall leukemias in children.

While it’s difficult to see families like the Sanborns struggling with the diagnosis and treatments, Dr. Diamond said being there for the families during this time is important.

“I think that it’s very easy to take care of the children in terms of it’s very easy to love them and their families,” said Dr. Diamond. “So it keeps you humble and keeps things in perspective.”

Liam is one of hundreds of thousands of kids plotting a new course for cancer research.

“As horrible of days that we have in our life, we have a lot of hope and we have a lot of positivity because of organizations like LLS,” said Sanborn.

Liam’s journey is far from over, but because of organizations like LLS, the Sanborns have a team of people helping them navigate this new course.

Click here to register for the Madison Area Light the Night Walk
Donate Now by texting: CUREMADISON to 91999

LLS is already searching for volunteers for the 2020 Light the Night walk in Madison. If you are interested, please contact Shannon Ratchman, the campaign manager. shannon.ratchman@lls.org