Will Abernathy, age 5 battled stage IV neuroblastoma and treatment related AML cancer. He led a very healthy and active life until he developed symptoms a month prior to diagnosis. We were all in a state of shock and disbelief over Will's diagnosis. How could this happen to a perfectly happy and healthy little boy? At 31 months, on Halloween 2010, Will's diagnosis was confirmed and our lives were changed forever. While neuroblastoma is the most common childhood cancer, only 1 in 100,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with it each year.
Will endured six rounds of chemotherapy at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, plus a tumor resection on his left adrenal gland, a round of outpatient chemo, and numerous ER admissions for fever and blood and platelet transfusions. Will’s response to the first 6 standard rounds of chemo was not what the doctors were hoping for. His scan results showed only a partial response to the chemo with little change and his doctor did not feel that he was ready to move on to stem cell, which was the next step on Will’s protocol. Will's treatment plan took a different path and he was sent to CHOP-Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to continue treatment with 131I-MIBG therapy offered at only six hospitals in the nation. Will completed his first cycle of 131I-MIBG therapy on May 10, 2011 and MIBG scans performed 7 weeks later still showed stable disease with no change. Will and his family returned to CHOP for a second cycle of 131I-MIBG therapy on June 12, 2011 in hopes that he would go on to respond after two treatments. His scan in August still showed stable disease with no change. In September of 2011, Will began the clinical trial PF 0234-1066, also known as Crizotinib. The drug was developed by Pfizer to work as an ALK-attacking compound to work on patients whose patients whose tumors had an ALK mutation. After 10 cycles of the Crizotinib and indicating stable disease and clear bone marrow, scans performed in June 2012 showed a new spot and Will was taken off of the drug. Will's care was then placed in the hands of Dr. Giselle Sholler at Helen DeVos Cildren's Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI where Will began the targeted study, DFMO. After just 2 cycles, scans showed that Will's cancer had spread even more, and he was immediately taken off the drug and enrolled in a new chemo treatment that unfortunately had more side effects. Will developed an infection while on the trial & because his disease didn't show a great enough response, he was removed from the study. Will & his family then traveled back to Philadelphia for a 3rd MIBG therapy.
On April 23rd, just 3 months after the 3rd MIBG therapy, Will & his family were given more devastating news. Blood tests revealed that Will developed a secondary cancer, AML, from previous treatments. This was discovered during a hospital admission for major dental work, 16 extractions & 4 crowns, also a result of treatment. On April 28, Will came home under the care of Journey Hospice. He completed 2 1/2 rounds of Vidaza chemotherapy in hopes of slowing the progression of the AML. WILL SUFFERED EXTREME PAIN AND FACED DAILY CHALLENGES THAT NO 5 YEAR OLD SHOULD EVER HAVE TO FACE, DURING TREATMENT AND ESPECIALLY AFTER THE SECOND CANCER DIAGNOSIS. YET, HE OVERCAME EVERY OBSTACLE THAT STOOD IN HIS WAY AND FACED EVERY DAY WITH THE HOPE AND PASSION TO LIVE LIFE, HAPPY, AS WE ALL SHOULD! JUST 84 DAYS AFTER HIS 2ND CANCER DIAGNOSIS, WILL STOPPED SUFFERING ON JULY 16, 2013. Will showed amazing strength & maturity with each new challenge he faced. He adapted to each new normal that came his way.
Will led a very active life. He attended First Baptist Pre-School for 2 years and was a member of First Baptist Church Sunday School and AWANA. He took gymnastics and participated in Lil' All Stars. Will enjoyed playing with his friends, swimming, jumping on his trampoline, going to Stars and Strikes and eating out- especially at Kani House Hibachi. He was also happy being on the go and always had a great attitude and a winning smile that warmed any heart and brightened any day. Will loved playing games on the iPad and dressing in costumes from his collection from Buzz Lightyear to Darth Vader. He loved going fast on his John Deere tractor at an early age and laughed in delight as mom ran behind him trying to slow him down. His loyal companion, boxer, Shelby, kept a watchful eye on Will, somehow understanding his sickness and always tolerating his little boy mischievous acts. With his blonde curly locks, bright blue eyes, and affectionate, care-free personality, Will was a true joy to everyone in his life, both family and friends. We cherished every day that we had with him.