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Garrett - Childhood Cancer

Garrett - Childhood Cancer

Nine-year-old Garrett has a twin sister, three parrots, and is, as of October, three years cancer-free!

His story started soon after his sixth birthday, when his right eyelid looked droopy and he couldn’t open it all the way.  His mom, Monica, took him to an eye doctor, who sent him to an eye specialist, who sent him to Seattle Children’s Hospital, where the diagnosis stunned:  a rare and fast-growing cancer called embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma.

Like most children his age, Garrett likes to play video games and hang out with friends. Unlike other six-year-olds, Garrett had to do 24 weekly rounds of chemotherapy and 25 (5 days per week for 5 weeks) proton radiation treatments. Most kids his age need to be sedated during proton therapy, so they can lie still enough for the precise beam. Garrett, showing great maturity, was able to do all 25 sessions without sedation!

“It didn’t hurt, but I had to stay very still in a mask clipped to the table and look to the left so the radiation wouldn’t hurt my eye,” said Garrett. Monica added: “Because he was awake, he had more control over his eye tracking and could keep it away from the beam. This may have reduced the amount of radiation that his right eye received."

There can be many side effects from treatment, one being dry eye. Garrett uses lubricating drops three times a day to help control this. In 2016 his treated eye developed a cataract and he underwent surgery to have that corrected. “We were told he would need glasses for reading,” said Monica. “His only reaction to this was that he wanted ‘Clark Kent’ glasses. Otherwise, Garrett is your typical active boy.  They said he would be fatigued from the proton treatments, but we never saw it; he was running up so he could scan himself in with his security badge and making friends with other older patients, lifting their spirits in the process.”

Garrett’s relationships with the SCCA Proton Therapy Center staff – especially Brittani and Nikki – were a highlight for the family. They made it fun for him, playing Christmas carols in September, treating him like family. “He even asks to go back to visit sometimes.”

Because of the location of Garrett’s tumor, and because of his age, proton therapy was the best treatment option. Because the proton beam stops at the tumor instead of traveling on through nearby tissue, his growing brain received much less radiation. “We would have traveled to another proton center if necessary; we were lucky, this one opened in March 2013 and Garrett was diagnosed in May 2013,” said Monica.

They were also lucky that Garrett didn’t have to miss much school, since his treatments were given over the summer months. For those children who do miss school, Seattle Proton Therapy Center has a fun program called Monkey in my Chair. Each child undergoing treatment gets a large stuffed monkey that goes to school and sits in the patient’s seat, keeping it warm and occupied until the child can return. Garrett missed only a few days of school, and was able to keep up with his classmates when he returned from treatment.

Today, he takes Kung Fu and piano lessons, fights and plays with his sister, Addisyn, and enjoys what he calls his “awesome” family.  Cancer-free is a good way to be, and protons were an important part of his cure.