Learning to Stand Tall: Overcoming Leukemia at Age 2
Prevention & Treatment Charles Esten, who plays Deacon Claybourne on TV's "Nashville," still remembers the devastating moment that changed his role as a parent.
Addie, Charles Esten's then two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, hadn't seemed herself after the removal of a small growth on her leg. Charles and his wife Patty were determined to find out why.
"She was pale, grumpy, and these little black spots emerged on her legs, which we would later find out were peticiae, or tiny little spots of bleeding on the skin caused by little or no platelets," Esten recalls. When their surgeon could find nothing wrong, they went to their pediatrician. "Within minutes of a blood test, we were sent to Cedars-Sinai Hospital."
Faith in numbers
It was there that the Estens first learned that leukemia could be the cause of their daughter's symptoms. Still, that didn't make the diagnosis—acute lymphoblastic leukemia—any easier to bear. "The doctor mentioned the 85 percent survival rate, which was different than when I was a kid and leukemia was a death sentence," Esten says. "But there was also the 15 percent, and it was the biggest 15 percent I'd ever considered in my life."
"'There are doctors and nurses and researchers whom I've never met, and fundraisers I will never know who made Addie's chance of surviving 85 percent instead of 20 percent.'"
The good news is that Addie was in the majority; she is now a healthy 16-year-old with few, if any, memories of her two-year course of chemotherapy. In the years since Addie's diagnosis, the survival rates for children with leukemia diagnoses have soared above 90 percent. "They're still making great advances," Esten says. "But it's not good enough." Looking at all blood cancers combined, one-third of patients don't survive five years past diagnosis despite strides in survival rates.
That's just one reason why the Estens are committed to working with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS). Last year, Esten was named the Honorary Chair for the 2015 National Light the Night Walk, an event held in almost 200 cities across the country. Esten, wife Patty and Addie will be carrying a lantern, a white light representing a patient in remission, this year as well.
"We walk with Team Addie," Esten says. "Every year, I can see Addie get more involved and engaged, and it is not just something her mom and I are doing. This is her cause now, too. It could be very easy for her to step away, but she's seen the work LLS does."
Today Addie only needs to have her blood tested once a year to rule out a recurrence. The Estens, who have two older children as well as Addie, are grateful. "There are doctors and nurses and researchers whom I've never met, and fundraisers I will never know who made Addie's chance of surviving 85 percent instead of 20 percent," Esten says. "We were surrounded by friends and family and prayers, and that was huge, but just as huge was the community that has spent its time fighting this and that we are now trying to be a part of."