When asked to describe her son, Cohen, Valorie is quick to say, “He is strong-willed. Whatever he does, he does big.”
That’s the way he goes through life and that is the way he fought back against cancer, too. His battle started nearly two years ago, when Cohen was three. Constipation forced his mother to take him to the pediatrician a couple of times. He was given routine treatments until one day Cohen’s stomach grew so large that he looked like he was pregnant. The doctor sent him to the emergency room immediately and after a week, Cohen was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare childhood cancer that manifested itself as a fifteen-centimeter tumor in his abdomen.
Cohen’s treatment started right away. Because the tumor was too large to remove, he began chemotherapy designed to shrink the tumor to a more manageable size. The side effects of chemo were hard on him. But even in his pain, Cohen’s strong will pushed back. He fought every finger prick, every blood draw, and every needle brought his way. His fighting spirit guided him even as he lost his hair and so much weight that he needed to have a feeding tube. Unfortunately, the tumor was stubborn too. It didn’t shrink.
Cohen’s family was running out of hope until Dr. Megan Durham of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta decided to undertake the dangerous surgery. Cohen was wheeled back for what was supposed to be a thirteen-hour procedure. They were relieved when Dr. Durham emerged after only four hours and said she got it all. Valorie says it was an absolute miracle.
After recovering from the surgery, Cohen continued taking chemotherapy and also began receiving radiation to ensure that the tumor never returns. He lost even more weight, but took his last chemo at the end of March and as he has recovered from his treatment, he has finally been able to pack on a few pounds. He still has random pain and some nausea, but his recovery is progressing well. In fact, he started Kindergarten at the McDonough Presbyterian Children’s Academy this fall.
“These kids are amazingly resilient. They just want to be kids. Any day Cohen felt good during treatment, he took that chance to just be a kid,” Valorie recalls. “And now it makes my heart happy to see him jump out of the van and run into school without looking back because there were days when I was afraid that might never happen.”