Andover kids share their cancer survival stories

Two young Andover residents will be among the many kids featured on the KS95 for Kids Radiothon taking place at the Mall of America Dec. 6-7. The great news is that both are cancer free and thriving.

The Rades family from left, clockwise: Bob, Alyssa, Kiersten and Kathryn. Alyssa has been cancer free for over seven years.Photo by Eric Hagen

The Rades family from left, clockwise: Bob, Alyssa, Kiersten and Kathryn. Alyssa has been cancer free for over seven years.Photo by Eric Hagen

The 13-year-old radiothon has raised more than $11.6 million to help kids battling cancer or living with other disabilities, according to Kelly Schultz of the Children’s Cancer Research Fund, which is one of the organizations that receive the funds along with Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare.

Every person who has battled cancer has their own unique story to tell and 16-year-old Kiersten Rades and eight-year-old Ethan Wold will share their experiences with a large audience in hopes that they can offer support to others.

Kiersten has been cancer free for over seven years. She actually went through chemotherapy for two different types of cancer between August 2004 and October 2005. She was not in the clear until a bone marrow transplant on Oct. 21, 2005.

The message she wants to get across for those battling cancer is, “Make sure to keep your family close and keep laughing.”

Ethan’s father Todd said, “Don’t clam up and try to do it by yourself.” Between family and friends and various nonprofit organizations, Ethan was in many people’s thoughts and prayers and this all helped him get through the chemo treatment and recovery.

Kiersten’s story

Kiersten was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma in August 2004 when she was just eight years old and about to enter the third grade at Andover Elementary School. This is a rare and aggressive form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma in which tumors grow at an alarming rate.

Ethan Wold managed to keep a sense of humor during a tough year for him and his family. He pulled out clumps of his hair after chemo treatments because he was anxious to be bald. He now is cancer free and has all his hair.Photo by Eric Hagen

Ethan Wold managed to keep a sense of humor during a tough year for him and his family. He pulled out clumps of his hair after chemo treatments because he was anxious to be bald. He now is cancer free and has all his hair.Photo by Eric Hagen

Kiersten knew something was wrong because her stomach was extremely tight and she was sweating profusely. She would sprawl out on the floor to try to ease the pain and cool off, but kept feeling worse.

Her father Bob and stepmother Alyssa brought her to the doctor and she was immediately diagnosed. Bob said the doctor never wanted to say the word cancer, but said a room was being prepped so she could begin treatments immediately.

There was intense chemotherapy over the next 10 months. She was considered cancer free in May 2005.

During a routine check-up in July 2005, Kiersten was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia and was just given a 10 percent chance of survival. Doctors told them that they believed the intense chemotherapy treatment caused this new cancer, Bob said.

Kiersten was immediately admitted to the University of Minnesota’s Amplatz Children’s Hospital for radiation therapy before she got a bone marrow transplant on Oct. 21, 2005.

Kiersten is doing quite well seven years later. She is a junior at Andover High School and was elected to be the drum major for the school’s marching band this past fall. She plays the clarinet.

She is part of the school’s speech team and will be starting PSEO classes this fall.

Her post-secondary plans are to attend the University of Minnesota to become a veterinary pathologist. She volunteers at the Animal Humane Society in Coon Rapids in her spare time.

The only hint that she once had cancer is the drop foot in her left foot caused by nerve damage during chemotherapy.

This has not stopped Kiersten from participating in charity running events. After Kiersten’s successful transplant, Alyssa found out about the Children’s Cancer Research Fund and wanted to help out in any way they could. She thought that the Children’s Cancer Research Fund’s Time to Fly 5K run/walk event would be the perfect family activity to participate in.

Kiersten is no fan of running, but she trained all spring in 2010 when they first participated and they continue to be involved.

For Kiersten, she likes to speak up so others have a better understanding of what cancer does.

“I’m the same, but different at the same time,” she said.

Ethan’s story

Ethan felt a lump in his throat and was having difficulty breathing when he was in gym class Jan. 12, so he went to get a drink of water and was alarmed when he could not swallow.

Ethan’s mother Dawnshelle said they took Ethan to his pediatrician later that day and ultimately to the University of Minnesota Amplatz Children’s Hospital to find out why Ethan had something in his throat that looked like pink cauliflower.

The scar tissue was removed and he stayed in the hospital overnight for the swelling to go down before a biopsy could be done Friday, Jan. 13. Ethan’s parents found out the following Wednesday that their son had a type of cancer in his throat called rhabdomyosarcoma.

“I hated that day,” Ethan said.

Luckily for them, the cancer was caught early, but he still had to have surgery to remove his soft palate and underwent chemotherapy that started just before Valentine’s Day and wrapped up around the Fourth of July.

Dawnshelle said they wanted to cut his hair shorter right after he started chemo so it would not be as much of an adjustment for him down the road. Ethan suggested shaving his head because he was curious what he would look like bald.

Ethan was not bothered when his parents informed him that he would soon be bald because of the chemotherapy. Every time he got done with a treatment session, he would pull out strands of hair. One time he came running into the room his mom was in and kiddingly said, “You make me so mad!” and pulled out clumps of hair. They posted a video of him pulling out his hair on Facebook so it would be an adventure.

Most kids look forward to the weekend, but Ethan had to go in the hospital every Friday night during the first round of chemo treatments from early February to early March. Every three weeks, he had to stay in the hospital the whole weekend for more intense chemo treatments.

After a two-week break, Ethan had outpatient chemo treatments every week until July 6. He remembers a nurse coming to the home every Tuesday night to draw blood and check his blood cell counts.

He still had to go to the emergency room whenever his temperature went above 100.5 degrees, which happened on a few occasions. Ethan remembers puking a lot, but never at school.

In fact, Ethan was able to successfully complete the second grade at the DaVinci Academy of Arts and Science in Blaine. There were a lot of short days, but teachers would tutor him before and after school to catch him up on what he missed.

Ethan’s hair has grown back, he began talking without difficulty and he is now cancer free. Dawnshelle said doctors were amazed how few side effects Ethan had during his treatment. Todd credited the Children’s Cancer Research Fund because the research they funded uncovered treatment techniques that helped Ethan.

After a very trying year, the family, which also included his sister Emma, 13, brother Everett, 5, and grandparents, an aunt and uncle were able to take a two-week trip to Disney World.

The trip through the Make a Wish Foundation took them to several theme parks in Orlando and a Disney cruise trip to private island just off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic Ocean.

Ethan’s favorite rides were the Rock ’n’ Rollercoaster and the Tower of Terror at Disney Studios, and he got a kick out of looking out at the ocean through large glass windows while sitting in a hot tub on the cruise ship.

“It was good for him to know that at the end of the planned treatment that he would have something to look forward to,” Todd said.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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