Every summer when Sam Havron takes his shirt off to go swimming, the sixth grader at McCallie School has to explain the scars on his chest and spine to every child—and adult—who asks about them.
But Sam doesn't mind. While many people try to hide scars or get them to fade away, Sam is proud of the eight-inch scar on his back that extends down from his hairline and the "L"-shaped scar that goes from the bottom of his neck down his chest and across to under his arm. These very obvious scars—supplemented by those from lymph node biopsies and port placement and removal—are proof of the series of tumor resection surgeries that saved his life almost a decade ago.
Sam was just 20 months old when swollen lymph nodes led his parents, Jenny and Will, to take their son to the pediatrician. Physical exams and ultrasounds of the nodes weren't conclusive, but a chest X-ray was: Sam had a large tumor in his chest.
"The pediatrician told us she thought it was neuroblastoma, but we would need to do additional tests at Children's Hospital at Erlanger to know for sure," Jenny remembers. "Sure enough, oncologists diagnosed Sam with Stage IIB, intermediate-risk neuroblastoma."
Sam was lucky, because his cancer was detected at an early stage, and his treatment—though terrible for Sam—was much easier than that of other children. Sam underwent five months of chemotherapy designed to shrink the tumor, and then had two surgeries four days apart to remove the tumor from his chest and spine.
"Doctors warned us that because of the location of the tumor, there was a 50/50 chance that Sam would lose the ability to move his arms following the surgery," Jenny says. "Fortunately, that didn't happen. The doctors removed the majority of the tumor, and later imaging revealed that the tiny bit that was left behind was benign."
No Evidence of Disease
Though Sam now has no evidence of disease, that doesn't mean it's the end of his visits to the oncology clinic at Children's Hospital at Erlanger. He still undergoes regular scans to ensure the tumor hasn't started to grow again, and he has annual visits to his oncologist, as well as a cardiologist, audiologist, and ophthalmologist, to monitor for any late-onset effects that could develop due to the chemotherapy he had almost a decade ago.
"Sam has had no evidence of disease since 2004, and we're incredibly grateful for that," Jenny says. "We don't think about his cancer every day anymore, and we know that it's incredibly unlikely that it will every come back. But the 'what ifs' never go away."
Emily's Power for a Cure started after Sam was diagnosed and treated, but his mother became involved with the cause when she learned about it through the Pink Bandana Ball. Jenny has volunteered at every Pink Bandana Ball, and she now serves as a board member for Emily's Power for a Cure.