Taking on Rhabdomyosarcoma at Age 4 … and Winning

When her son Jaxson was diagnosed with cancer, Careli had to fight to keep his treatment local and found cCARE along the way

Jaxson with his parents for his story on fighting against Rhabdomyosarcoma | cCARE | Fresno & San Diego, CA
Careli and her husband, Joey, had plans to take their oldest son, Jaxson, to Universal Studios one weekend, but instead took Jaxson into the hospital, for what they thought was a hernia. Only a week after that visit, they were told something no parent wants to hear.

Their child who loves cowboy boots and gets upset in the Peanuts Christmas movie because Snoopy is out in the cold … their child who can light up any room and loves to dance to the song “Cuban Pete” from his current favorite movie, The Mask … their child had cancer.

“Honestly, for me, when they told me he had cancer, I was in denial,” says Careli. “I told them they were wrong.”

But the doctors weren’t wrong. Jaxson was diagnosed with embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma. Rhabdomyosarcoma begins in the muscles and is the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children. Jaxson had the tumor that was initially thought the be the hernia removed and immediately started treatment.

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Fighting to stay near home for radiation cancer treatment

Jaxson received chemotherapy treatment at a different facility, close to home. However, when it came time for Jaxson to undergo radiation, Careli and Joey were told by their insurance company that he would have to go to the Los Angeles area for cancer treatment.

The couple had another child at home, and Careli was at the beginning of what would be a difficult pregnancy. They couldn’t afford, financially or time-wise, to travel back and forth to LA for Jaxson’s rhabdomyosarcoma treatment.

“I fought and fought and fought with the insurance company to let us stay close to home,” says Careli. “I had to get his pediatrician and oncologist to write letters. I had to fight.”

Staying near their home would mean that Careli and Joey’s families could help them, Careli could be close to her OB-GYN, and it would be better for Julius, their 1-year-old son. It was important to Careli and she did everything she could to make it happen.

“It was quite a battle, but it was approved,” she says. “And then we were at cCARE! We were so happy and blessed, and it just ended up working out perfectly.”

Treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma – and Mom’s peace of mind

Jaxson with his dad by a large imaging machine while treating against Rhabdomyosarcoma | cCARE | Fresno & San Diego, CA
Not only is Careli thankful they were close to home but she is also thankful for the staff at cCARE and their attentiveness to her son. Jaxson didn’t dislike going to cCARE for his rhabdomyosarcoma treatment, even though he had to cope with large medical devices and would have the unfortunate side effects of radiation.

“It can be intimidating when you’re little,” Careli emphasizes. “You go in and there are these big machines and you don’t know what they are going to do. But the technicians – and everyone – were great at explaining everything and making him feel comfortable.”

The nurses were a source of comfort for both Careli and Jaxson. He was at cCARE for many months to receive treatment, and the staff took Jaxson in as if he were their own. For Careli, who due to pregnancy complications had to go on bedrest and then be admitted to the hospital for monitoring, this type of attention was all she wanted for her son.

“Who doesn’t want to see their child treated with love?” asks Careli. “He loves them. All the nurses are fabulous.”

Lydia Herevia, lead of the pediatrics department, got to know Jaxson very well in his time at cCARE for radiation treatment. She discovered his love of cowboy boots early on in his time there and used it as a way to cheer him up during his treatments.

“When I first get to meet a child, I try to get to know who they are,” Lydia says. “For Jaxson, it was easy. I saw he had on a pair of cowboy boots and I bragged how much I liked them because I had a pair of cowboy boots too!! I brought my boots to work with me the very next day and put them on just for him. When I wasn’t wearing them, he would ask why not. His sweet face lit up.”

Ringing the bell surrounded by loving nurses in cowboy boots

cCARE nurses all in cowboy boots to celebrate with Jaxson, featured in this story about his fight against Rhabdomyosarcoma | cCARE | Fresno & San Diego, CA
Jaxson was a trooper through his own treatment for rhabdomyosarcoma and through Careli’s pregnancy that kept her from being with him for every treatment or appointment.

“He’s been so understanding with the pregnancy,” Careli says. “He’s been like, ‘It’s ok, Mom. The baby needs to be there.’ He’s wonderful.”

Luckily though, she’s was able to join Jaxson, Joey and her whole family to celebrate the day of Jaxson’s final radiation treatment at cCARE. He got to the ring the bell, which is a signal of completing the final treatment, surrounded by nurses all wearing their cowboy boots to celebrate with him.

“When you give birth to them it’s one feeling, but when he rang that bell it was a much better feeling because it’s a sigh of relief,” Careli says tearfully.

Making it to the ringing of the bell is what Careli hopes other parents with kids who have cancer remember. Once their child makes it to the bell, that means they have their children with them for so much longer.

“As hard as it is to say that it’s going to be worth it, it really is,” she says. “It’s hard to watch your child hurt and ache because of the side effects of the medication, but it’s going to be worth it because you get to have your child that much longer in life.”

After beating childhood cancer, what’s next?

Up next for Jaxson is a big step he’s been looking forward to for a long time … kindergarten! Because cancer treatment compromised his immune system, he had to be pulled from school. He’s been excited to go back ever since.

“He’s also looking forward to his Make-A-Wish,” Careli says. “We had to explain what Make-A-Wish was to him because at first he asked if they could take him to the park. We had to let him know he could ask for more than that.”

Jaxson is also going on many trips this summer with his family, including finally getting around to that trip to Universal Studios.