When 10-year-old Doernbecher Freestyle patient-designer Lizzy Olivan came down with a fever last summer, her mom Beatriz knew something wasn’t right. We sat down to learn more about Lizzy (now 11) and her battle against Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
Can you tell us more about Lizzy’s diagnosis?
Last August, she came down with a fever. I gave her some Tylenol and kept a close eye on her. After four days, I took her to the pediatrician, who thought she was likely fighting some sort of virus. It wasn’t normal for Lizzy to have a fever without a cough or other cold symptoms; I figured her little body was trying to fight something, but just didn’t know what.
Two or three days after that, I took her back to the doctor – she still had a fever and was pretty lethargic, just not acting like herself. Normally, she’s pretty dark by the end of the summer, but she looked pale – gray, almost.
Our doctor took and sent out a full bloodwork panel, and she called us that same evening to let us know it looked like Lizzy might have leukemia. Our doctor sent Lizzy to our hospital in The Dalles (Mid-Columbia Medical Center) right away, and from there she was transferred to Doernbecher.
She started treatment about two days after we arrived at Doernbecher, once they had determined what kind of leukemia it was. We were there for eight days, and then we got to go home to start the regular chemotherapy treatments.
What was Lizzy’s diagnosis like for you as a mother?
Having worked in a dialysis center, I understood a lot of the medical terms when Liz was diagnosed. It made it much easier to understand everything going on and how things worked.
That said, it all happened really fast. Other than having her tonsils removed when she was 6, Lizzy has always been really healthy and active, so I didn’t expect it to be anything this serious. A few weeks before she was diagnosed, we were in Seaside, where she was competing in a national dance competition. She had complained about some abdominal pain, but we thought it must just be muscle soreness from her swimming and dancing. She’s a busy girl!
We’ve heard Lizzy’s physicians adore her! What was her time at Doernbecher like?
Lizzy really appreciates and likes her doctors. At a recent appointment, we heard that Dr. Lindemulder is a fantastic baker. Lizzy asked her about that, and Dr. Lindemulder promised to bring some cupcakes to her next IV treatment.
During her latent intensification period, which was every other week, we were at Doernbecher spending four to five days inpatient while she got a high dose of chemo. On one of those trips, she was bored – it was getting close to Christmas, and she wanted to be home. Our doctors asked if there was anything they could do for her, and Lizzy asked if anyone could get her a slushy. Dr. Garland went out to 7-Eleven and brought her a slushy. It was definitely a moment she (and I) will never forget!
Where is Lizzy at with her treatment today?
She’s been in maintenance since May. For her, that means she’s taking oral chemotherapy here at home in The Dalles and receiving IV chemotherapy once a month in the outpatient clinic at Doernbecher. That’s what it will look like for the next two years.
Lizzy turned 11 in June, and she just started middle school this fall. She’s playing flute in the band, and she’s back to dancing. She also teaches the little ones to dance tap and jazz. On top of that, she was just elected treasurer for her sixth-grade class and she’s a junior cheerleader. I tell her she needs to slow down!
Our family has become involved in raising awareness about ALL and other cancers that affect both kids and adults. We were involved in the Be The Match Walk+Run at Doernbecher and participated in Relay for Life as well.
What would you tell other parents and families who are going through what your family faced with Lizzy’s ALL diagnosis?
It takes time, and it will get better with time. These doctors know what they’re doing. They will do anything and everything in their power to help your child. Ask them any questions you may have – they will get you an answer. They’re amazing, they know what they’re doing and they will take care of your child.
I want to thank Doernbecher and the whole staff – everyone who has become a part of our lives. We’re very, very grateful for them.