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Last updated: Mon. Dec. 03, 2012 - 04:44 pm EDT

Celebrating cancer remission

Child surivors given party at North Side

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When Quinton Tatum was only a month old, his mother noticed that something was not right.

“His stomach was very, very hard to the touch,” said Kristy Tatum, 23.

She took her baby to the hospital where he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer.

Quinton is now 3 years old and his cancer is in remission.

The precocious tot, along with his mother and other family members, was in attendance Sunday at North Side High School’s 25th annual Christmas Party for Kids Surviving Cancer.

North Side students treated more than a dozen families to lunch, gifts from Santa and performances by the North Side Show Choir, dance teams, orchestra and drama ensembles.

Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in infancy, with nearly half of the cases occurring in children younger than two years.

It often develops in the adrenal glands, but can also appear in nerve tissues in the neck, chest, pelvis or abdomen, as it did in Quinton’s case.

The infant had to undergo eight months of treatment involving chemotherapy, but since then the cancer has disappeared, his mother said.

Another survivor, 13-year-old Brandon Shankle of New Haven sat nearby enjoying pizza with his mother and sister. This is the fifth year his family has attended the event.

Brandon was diagnosed with lymphoma or cancer of the lymphatic system when he was 7 years old, said his mother, Katherine Shankle. He became sick and one side of his face swelled, she said.

“We took him to a dentist at first, but it wasn’t what we thought it was,” Katherine Shankle said.

Eventually, Brandon lost a lot of weight and became even sicker. That’s when a positron emission tomography or PET scan revealed the cancer.

After undergoing nine weeks of chemotherapy, Brandon is now cancer-free.

While his family is grateful for the remission of the disease, they are not completely out of the dark.

Brandon’s sister Nancy, a 16-year-old who attends New Haven High School, was breathing with the aid of an oxygen machine. Born with a congenital heart defect, she has been on the waiting list for a new heart for the past two years.

Nancy was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, in which parts of the left side of the heart such as valves and ventricles do not develop completely. She had three heart operations before she was 3 years old, said her mother.

With Brandon’s cancer in remission, Katherine Shankle said all she needs now for peace of mind is for her daughter to get a new heart.

North Side students helping with the event were obviously touched by the families in attendance.

Syahirah Aziz, a senior at North Side High School, was one of the many volunteers who helped organize the event, which included gathering donations, shopping for gifts and organizing entertainment.

This is the fourth year Aziz has helped with the event.

“It’s a wonderful event and a chance to give back to these kids,” Aziz said. “It’s just pizza and small gifts, but it’s important we let them know we have not forgotten.

Aziz is grateful that she has had no firsthand experience with cancer in her family, but her empathy for children with cancer is strong.

Aziz sums up her feelings by quoting Marlo Thomas, a spokeswoman for St. Jude’s Hospital for Children: “Give thanks for the healthy kids in your life and give to those who are not.”

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