A New Treatment Gave Us Hope
By Conan Viernes
Our son, Tiago, was just 2 years old when we learned he had stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma. His tiny body was filled with cancer cells and he was weeks – if not days – from death.
At the time, kids like Tiago who received standard treatment had less than a 50% chance of living for three years. But Dr. Julie Park, (a world-renowned neuroblastoma specialist and medical director of Seattle Children’s Immunotherapy Coordinating Center), developed a new treatment approach that significantly improved the survival rate for neuroblastoma patients. By treating patients with two stem cell transplants instead of the usual one, survival rates increased from 48% to 62%.
Knowing that the numbers were on our side gave us hope. We went from thinking our son was going to die to believing he could be cured.
Still, we wondered how our family would survive financially. As soon as Tiago was diagnosed, my wife, Geo, quit her job to become his full-time caregiver. Our family moved from Wapato, WA to Seattle for his treatment.
Seattle Children’s was our safety net. We received financial aid through uncompensated care and were assured we would never have to worry about paying for Tiago’s treatment. A weight was lifted off our shoulders.
Tiago has now been cancer-free for almost three years – which means his cancer is likely gone for good. Today, when I see him playing baseball, I almost forget he had cancer.
Now, our family is on a mission to help other children get the same lifesaving care. We helped lead the Lemon Challenge to raise money for pediatric cancer research, and I volunteer on the Oncology Family Advisory Board and the Hospital Board of Trustees to find new ways for Seattle Children’s to support families on their cancer journey.