A local toddler has something really awesome to celebrate this week.
His family is hoping to share their story in honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month this September.
According to the American Cancer Society, 10,500 children 14 years old and younger will be diagnosed with cancer this year.
Two-year old Christian Gerber became a part of that statistic but he has come such a long way in the last several months while going through treatment at Children's Health in Dallas.
The latest news from around North Texas.
He has spent most of the year battling Stage 4 Sporadic Burkitt lymphoma in his brain, the rarest and most aggressive form of lymphoma.
Just a few weeks ago, the little fighter was able to ring the special bell to signal the end to of his treatment.
“It happened so fast and I could not emotionally keep up with what was happening because I was still in shock,” said Christian’s mom, Samantha, reflecting on the last 10 months.
She told NBC 5 their lives changes forever in December 2020, when she noticed her little boy was feel more tired than usual.
“He was just playing in the park, everything was just super normal,” Samantha said. “Then one day he just was sleeping a lot, he was running a fever so we took him to the urgent care.”
The urgent care told her it was viral and that there was nothing much they could do.
“Then the next day he slept for 21 hours. That just did not seem normal,” Samantha said.
Another urgent care told her it was a toothache. But when the family noticed Christian bumping into things, they soon realized he was losing his eyesight.
“One day went from being able to see, to bumping into things. And by that evening he couldn’t see my hand in front of his face,” said Samantha.
He was rushed to the emergency room.
“When we got there thank goodness, one of the doctors knew something wasn’t right. They did a CT scan and that was when he told us that there was a mass in his head.”
Fighting For His Life
The type of Burkitt’s lymphoma Christian had accounts for 30% of all childhood lymphomas, but an abdominal tumor is the most common site of occurrence. His tumor was pushing up against his optic nerve.
Samantha said if they weren't paying attention and staying on top of unusual symptoms, things would've turned out different.
"Honestly, if it wasn't for him practically going blind, we might not have caught it in time because the type of cancer he has was so aggressive that it doubled in one day,” she said.
Because his cancer is so aggressive, doctors at Doctors at Children’s Health Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders gave Christian at the most intense level of chemotherapy his body could handle in order to defeat it.
In total, he went through six rounds of chemo and one round of radiation to save his eyesight – 211 days of treatment all throughout the pandemic.
“That pretty much wiped out all of his immunity. So we’ve lived the past seven months really having to be super careful about infection,” said Samantha.
Up to ten specialists helped guide the family through the unknown.
“He got absolutely amazing treatment at Children’s. By the time I brought him to the ER, less than 36 hours later he had already gone through biopsy, he had gotten diagnosed and we started chemo,” Samantha said. “I will always feel very grateful for that.”
Throughout his treatment, the family said Christian always had a smile on his face.
“Even in his worst days with the treatment, he couldn’t speak because he had sores all over his mouth -- he could still smile. And I think that just says a lot about the environment that he was in," said Samantha. “If we had to go through this journey, it was a child who is just so tolerant of new things that are happening but one that is super happy."
Once his scan cleared in July, Christian was able to ring the bell after his final treatment in August.
"Coming from telling us it was dark, he could not see... to ringing that bell, truly felt the weight of the world was lifted off of our shoulders,” said Samantha. “I would be lying to you if I told you that we feel 100% cured because it's just not the way cancer works. Obviously, in the next few years we'll always be looking to see if he's getting sick again or if there's a relapse. But this is just part of the course."
Christian will turn three years old next week. But his fight isn’t over.
The tumor caused permanent damage to his eyesight and he currently has about 75 percent of vision. His mom says that means he likely won't be able to drive later in his life.
“But I truly believe that medicine is always progressing and I am hopeful that there is going to be some sort of solution in the future that would give him that opportunity,” Samantha said. “I’m just so thankful that he gained any eyesight back. That’s one thing the cancer journey has taught us, is to be super thankful for every little thing every single day.“
The family said they are determined to press forward, raise awareness, and support other families who are going through it, too.
“It’s going to be OK. Somehow, some way, you will catch up when it feels like everything is going so fast. But most importantly I think is to accept help, use your community. There were so many people who wanted to help," she said. “Be open to it. I don’t think we could’ve gone through such an intense and stressful seven months without other people doing so many things for us."