Christian’s journey through cancer


Shortly after the Graef family moved from Colorado to Flower Mound, Texas, their 12-year-old son Christian was diagnosed in the Emergency Department at Children’s Medical Center with blood clots in his jugular vein and shoulder. He had to undergo 12 weeks of blood thinner injections. “All of the fear and anxiety associated with the daily injections, the testing to monitor the blood clots, blood tests, and not knowing the cause of the clots, was all compounded by the many changes associated with our moving,” says Christian’s mom, Shawn. That was just the beginning of the family’s medical journey, however. Christian, a competitive soccer player, was diagnosed at Children’s with a tumor in his chest on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. Read excerpts of the Graef family’s story:

“Just when we all felt we could move on and Christian could reengage with all of the sports he loved to play, we started to notice swelling in his face and upper chest. On Sunday morning, October 18, 2009, our world turned upside down. The doctors told us Christian had a mass in his chest. It was putting pressure on the superior vena cava and preventing the blood from his head and shoulders from returning back to his heart properly.

“He was admitted to the cancer unit at Children’s Medical Center and the cascade of testing, imaging, and conversations with doctors and nurses moved rapidly to make a diagnosis. Over the next three days, Christian needed surgeries for a spinal tap and bilateral bone marrow biopsies to determine if the cancer had spread to his bones (it had not). He also had a needle biopsy of the tumor and the placement of a port to administer the chemotherapy he would eventually need.

“We were shocked, anxious, worried, and scared. Why was our amazing 12-year-old son suffering, again? What kind of cancer did he have? What would the treatment consist of? How long would it take? Questions and fears were swirling through our heads at a dizzying rate.

“We soon found answers. Christian was diagnosed with anaplastic large cell lymphoma, requiring inpatient stays every 3-4 weeks for about 3-6 days of chemotherapy. The full treatment would take 4-6 months.”

Decisions to be made about treatment
While the family was given a diagnosis, they pondered where to have their son treated. Ultimately, the reputation of Children’s Medical Center and our medical staff made them choose Children’s for Christian’s care.

“Amidst all of our fears and concerns we had decisions to make. Where should we take him for treatment, who would be the best doctor for Christian, and what treatment option should he receive? We did a great deal of due diligence before making our decisions. Children’s Medical Center was ranked as one of the top 10 pediatric oncology hospitals in the nation, and the best in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Dr. Naomi Winick was ranked in several different reports as one of the best pediatric oncologists, and the tremendous care Christian had received up to that point from the amazing doctors and nurses made our decision easier. We would do everything at Children’s Medical Center and Dr. Winick would be Christian’s lead doctor. Once these decisions were made we focused all of our attention on doing everything we could to help Christian win the fight of his life.

“The doctors, nurses, child life specialists and other members of Christian’s care team at Children’s were there for him and our family throughout his treatment. They listened to our concerns, answered all our questions, and made sure we had a full understanding of what was happening every step along the way.

“Kicks for Cancer”
Today, Christian is in remission, he is back on the soccer field with his team, ASG Futbol Club, and is playing football for his middle school. He’s back to being an amazing active kid, says his mom. He has even helped raised funds for Children’s.

“Christian and his ASG Futbol Club soccer friends are even giving back to the hospital that treated him. Christian’s club director, coach and teammates created the “Kicks for Cancer,” raising more than $18,000 in its first year for the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.”

September is national Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. View a gallery of photos of children with cancer called “For The Moment” that showcases a day in the life of cancer patients and their families – whether at home, their struggles in treatment and through recovery.


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