Tina and Robert Calder with their son, Tommy

Cancer patients of all ages depend on you

November 5, 2018

Even if 5-year-old Tommy Calder stands on his tiptoes and stretches high above his head, his strand of Bravery Beads pools on the floor. Each colorful bead commemorates a procedure, event or treatment he’s endured fighting cancer.

In eight months, Tommy has collected an astounding 203 beads. They’re strong, visual reminders of what Tommy and his family have gone through so far this year.

“Tommy is still a little young to understand, but one day when he is older and done with all this, he can look at the beads and I can explain each one to him,” said his mom, Tina.

Tommy’s journey started last February. He had an odd rash and a fever. Suspecting the flu, his parents brought him to the nearby Sanford Thief River Falls Medical Center. But after a blood test, they learned Tommy was far more sick than they imagined.

Tommy, who also has Down syndrome, was diagnosed with leukemia. With his fever rising, he urgently needed specialty cancer care only available at Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center, more than 100 miles from their home in Warren, Minn.

“I was freaking out,” Tina said.

She still remembers the rush of panic as she and Tommy were airlifted to Fargo by Sanford AirMed. But her fears turned into hope the moment she stepped off the helipad in Fargo.

That’s because Tommy was going to be cared for at the Roger Maris Cancer Center, home to the largest and most diverse team of experts in the region and, thanks to donors like you, he would have access to advanced treatment options, state-of-the-art equipment and technology, and patient-centered services for even young patients like him.

The pediatric oncology team took care of Tommy like one of their own. Immediately, they addressed his high fever, placed a port to begin chemotherapy and answered all the Calders’ questions.

“You don’t have to be as nervous,” Tina said. “If you don’t understand something, they answer it for you right then and there, especially the doctors. If you have any problems, they will discuss different ways to deal with it.”

The Child Life Specialists were a godsend, Tina said. They eased Tommy’s fears during procedures, gave him his first Bravery Beads and distracted him with his favorite cartoon, Thomas the Train.

“They always made sure he had an iPad playing Thomas the Train just to make him feel comfortable,” she said. “Then they didn’t have to worry about him screaming or having fits.”

Even minor details, like the coffee bar, made a difference.

“I stayed awake for the first couple of nights,” she said. “I would just sneak off into the coffee room, get my coffee and sit there next to him.”

Once Tommy’s fever subsided, the family was able to go home and regroup before starting a three-year treatment plan that included surgery, chemotherapy and weekly doctor visits to Fargo for the first six months.

Tina and her husband, Robert, are grateful to have world-class pediatric cancer care so close to their home.

“If I would have had to go to a different state, that would have been awful,” Tina said. “The fact that it’s only two and a half hours away, we’re very lucky that we have Roger Maris and Sanford Children’s.”

The future is looking bright for Tommy. Tina said he’s feeling good, running around the house and playing with his Thomas the Train toys.

“He’s sick, but no colds or illnesses,” she said. “You wouldn’t think anything was wrong with him.”

Although recent scans show Tommy is cancer-free, that doesn’t mean the cancer is gone for good. Today, he takes up to 12 medicines a day for his cancer treatment, and the family travels to Fargo once a month for follow-up visits.

Please keep Tommy and his family in your thoughts this holiday season and consider making a gift to Roger Maris Cancer Center. Your support will make a difference for the Calders and the many, many other patients and families across our region who will need lifesaving cancer care in the year ahead.