A few days before Pierce McCarthy’s 7th birthday, his parents noticed his right eye was starting to swell. His pediatrician treated it with Benadryl, thinking it was an allergy. When the swelling didn’t stop, an eye doctor saw Pierce, and sent him for a CT scan. The scan revealed a mass, and a biopsy confirmed the family’s worst fear. Pierce had Embryonal Rhabdomyosarcoma—an extremely rare tumor of the muscles. Only 700 new cases are diagnosed each year.
Pierce’s parents, Amy and Brian, at first could not believe what was happening. The shock of a cancer diagnosis in a child can be overwhelming. The McCarthy’s had to explain to Pierce what was wrong and the treatment which was ahead of him. They also had to explain to his siblings that Pierce was very sick, and to get him well, he would have to have medicine that made him throw up, that he would lose his hair, that he’d have to spend time away in Jacksonville, Florida, for proton radiation, that the family would have to split up during that time, one parent with Pierce, the other at home with the kids who stayed behind.
As is often the case, the saddest and most frightening times bring out the best in people. Family, friends and CURE stepped in to help. Neighbors delivered meals to the McCarthy house. Pierce’s classmates got “buzz” cuts to support their newly balding buddy. CURE staff and volunteers see the family each week when they are at Scottish Rite receiving treatment. Ms. Sharon (Sharon Bryan, Patient & Family Services Liaison) brings sweet treats for Pierce and support for Amy and Brian. Turns out, Ms. Sharon has a son who had the same type of cancer as Pierce. He is now grown and doing well. It’s hard to imagine a greater gift for the McCarthy’s than hearing stories of healing and hope. Along with that support, CURE has been able to help the McCarthy family with travel expenses for their trips to Jacksonville…a much needed boost at a difficult time.
Pierce will receive weekly chemotherapy until the end of October. The great news is a scan after the first 12 weeks of treatment showed the tumor completely gone. Amy says Pierce is handling his chemotherapy pretty well, and doesn’t complain too much. After missing quite a bit of school last year, he attends regularly now, just checking out early on Wednesdays for his weekly treatment. His prognosis for a full recovery is good.
Amy says as overwhelmed as she and Brian were at the diagnosis, they are equally overwhelmed at the kindness of people around them who continue to help the entire family. That love and support have helped her to realize that Pierce, and the McCarthy family will get through this.