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Joshua's Journey: Part 1: Maintenance phase of chemotherapy next for 23-month-old

By JR Ortega
Dec. 24, 2010 at 6:24 a.m.


WHAT IS ACUTE LYMPHOBLASTIC LEUKEMIA?

It is a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells, which are used to fight infection.

The diseased cells lead to a compromised immune system.

It is the most common childhood cancer.

It is also called acute lymphocytic leukemia or acute lymphoid leukemia.

Source: Dr. Cris Johnson, Driscoll Children's Hospital Cancer and Blood Disorder Center

CORPUS CHRISTI - Dr. Cris Johnson darts around the Driscoll Children's Hospital Cancer and Blood Disorder Center like a pinball.

After seeing several patients during Joshua Hughston's treatment day, the medical director for the center finally gets a couple of minutes alone with the family.

His blood count is good, and he's not having any complications with the chemotherapy treatment or the steroids.

Another week checks out, and he should be ready for the maintenance phase by mid-January.

"Everyone is very happy when you get to maintenance," Johnson said.

Joshua's first six months have included different types of chemotherapy, from intravenous, to oral and injection and even lumbar punctures, to keep the diseased cells from spreading to the central nervous system.

The first phase is the induction phase. The second, of which he is at the end, is the delayed intensification. Both phases are strong because they have to kill the diseased cells to get the cancer into remission.

Joshua's parents, Cory and Colleen Hughston, understood what is needed to be done to treat his cancer, but it wasn't easy as a parent to leave a child's health to the doctors, his father said.

"The protective side of me was like, 'Why do I want to allow poison to be put into his body?' " he said.

The Hughstons now look forward to the maintenance.

"You've been through the hard part and this is relatively the easy part, so to speak," Johnson said.

Under maintenance, Joshua will receive monthly intravenous chemotherapy and a lumbar puncture once every three months, she added.

This phase means Joshua will be able to do more things with others, as his immune system won't be as compromised.

"We're definitely looking forward to it," Cory said. "He can start looking forward to life in the world and being more of a little boy than a patient."

Still, getting an infection can send Joshua spiraling downward.

Fever or any sign of an infection will be taken as serious and life-threatening, Johnson and the Hughstons said.

The family still has three more years to go, but the battle against disease, that has been going on for more than half a century.

"We've come a long way in the treatment of pediatric leukemia," Johnson said. "People know the word leukemia."

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