Childhood Cancer…It Can Happen to Anyone

Elizabeth’s dad Paul is a police officer and her mom Kristi a nurse – all American hard working family. Still on maternity leave, Kristi and Paul Ruzanka’s two month old was diagnosed with Infant Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia on February 4, 2012. Her parents had taken her to the emergency room because she was extremely pale and had a slight temperature. After drawing her blood they were told it was “either an infection or some sort of malignancy”. She was taken via ambulance to the PICU at Wolfson’s. Given her blood test results, they were sure it was Infant Leukemia but weren’t sure which kind it was. They did know however that she was VERY sick and in danger of having a stroke. Through all of this though, Elizabeth never acted sick, she smiled her first real smile at her mom that day and was smiling and cooing at the hospital staff. Her demeanor made it harder to believe that she had cancer. They were told that she had a 20-40% chance of survival, leaning towards 20%, given her age and the likelihood that she had a particular genetic rearrangement, that 80% of Infant Leukemia patients have. This is what makes Infant ALL such a stubborn cancer.

Elizabeth started treatment the next day with chemotherapy. She stayed 5 days in the PICU and then 26 on the pediatric oncology floor where she received chemo every day. During this time they found out that she had Infant Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and, by some miracle, she did not have the genetic rearrangement so her chances of survival improved significantly. She was able to get a 5 day break at home before she was admitted for her next chemo treatment. She spent the next 4 months in the hospital, between “sick” hospital stays and chemo stays. There were many ups and downs. On July 2, 2012 she was sent home for 11 weeks, the longest she had been home in her entire life! All of her chemo was either done at home or Nemours clinic. After that 11 weeks though she was back in the hospital for chemo for the next 6 months. She continues to receive chemo every day, at home with monthly visits to clinic for IV chemo, and to check her blood counts, as well as a spinal tap to receive chemo into her spinal fluid every 3 months. She has been in remission since March 13, 2012 and will finish treatment on February 5, 2014, a day her parents never thought they would see and are still very afraid of.

While Kristi was still on maternity leave, thankfully Paul was able to take the first month of her treatment off from his job as a Police Officer because he had enough time saved up. Once Kristi was able to get over the initial shock of everything, she knew there was no way she could go back to work. She HAD to be with her baby, after all she felt like she barely knew her, so she was determined to spend every minute she could with her because they honestly didn’t know how much time they were going to have with her. She also needed to be there as her advocate because Elizabeth wasn’t able to talk yet. They also had their son, Andrew to think about, who had just turned 4. When Paul was able to be at the hospital with Elizabeth, Kristi wanted to be able to spend time with Andrew.

She had it in her head that it didn’t matter if they had to lose everything and move in with family, she was going to be there with her baby. Kristi says, “Thanks to the generosity of the Jay Fund, we didn’t have to do that. I find it very appropriate that the slogan of the Jay Fund changed to “Be There” because they all have allowed us to do just that, not only for Elizabeth but for Andrew as well. In March of this year I was able to take a very part time job at a different hospital and we are trying to return to normal. The events that the Jay Fund has throughout the year are wonderful and mean so much to us as a family. I will never be able to put into words exactly how much we appreciate the Jay Fund and the work they all do. I have sat down many times over the last year and a half to try and write a thank you but every time I try, I am overcome with emotion and can’t quite find the right words because to say ‘thank you”” just doesn’t fully express our level of gratitude. Your organization helped us so much at the darkest time of our lives.
Hear Kristi and Paul Ruzanka’s story firsthand this morning on the Jay Fund Radiothon on 1010XL. “