Running off with the Circus

Joey Holt, a 14-year-old Fort Thomas resident who is an 8th grader at Highlands Middle School, is running off to Germany with the circus this summer. My son Joey really is an extraordinary kid who has defeated a rare disease called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. The cancer attacked his hip bone causing him to need a bone graft and making doctors wonder if he would ever walk again. After months in a wheelchair, years of physical and occupational therapy and counseling for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, not only can Joey walk, he can perform in a German Wheel and do tricks on a cable wheel.

joey german wheel2

Joey met Paul Miller, owner of Circus Mojo, and some of his team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital while waiting to see doctors in 2010. Joey enjoyed their entertainment so much that he asked me to schedule his appointments for when they would be in the waiting room. They taught him to balance a feather on his hand, spin plates and a little bit of juggling. The next year was quite a battle for Joey. He was in a wheelchair, doing therapy, dealing with nerve pain, in and out of the hospital as an inpatient all while trying to go to school. He was a fighter though.

joy wheelchair

joey walker

joey hospital

The next summer, 2011, I won a week of camp to Circus Mojo from a local blogger. Joey was ready to go learn more tricks but was using a wheelchair and crutches again due to pain. Paul said they would work around it and to send him to camp anyway. Joey was so determined to be able to do the silks, German wheel, cable wheel and everything else the circus had to offer that by the end of the week, Paul was balancing the wheelchair on his chin and Joey balanced the crutches in his hand.

joey balance

Joey fell in love with circus that summer and has been working with Mojo ever since. He trains every Saturday, performs for the public every chance he gets, attends summer camps and practices constantly at home.  His hard work has paid off. Circus Mojo is taking Joey to Germany this summer to train with Circus Pimparello for a few weeks. His trip is estimated to cost approximately $2000. Joey is for hire to perform at parties, teach kids circus tricks, babysit, take care of pets and do other odd jobs. All money earned will go toward his trip.

joey flyer

You can also help give Joey a chance of a life time by sponsoring a portion of his trip with a tax deductible donation. Donations can be made to Circus Mojo’s Foundation, The Social Circus Fund, at https://socialcircus.wordpress.com. Just click on Donate Here. Donations can also be mailed to the Social Circus Foundation, 326 Elm Street, Ludlow, Ky., 41016. PLEASE write in the memo or comments that the donation is for JOEY HOLT’S Germany Trip.  Please contact Gina (gina5620@gmail.com) or Nick Stegner (nstegner68@gmail.com) with questions or to hire Joey.

Note: Learn more about Joey at http://local12.com/news/local/circus-helps-teen-recover-from-rare-disease

Don’t Feel Sorry For Us; We’re Pretty Lucky

Between Joey having Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis, residual pain from the surgery and his PTSD, as well as Andi’s migraines, along with a recent concussion, we often find ourselves visiting the doctor and the hospital. Friends and family constantly make comments to me like “if it wasn’t for bad luck, you guys would have no luck at all,” “life is so unfair,” “you guys can’t catch a break,” “your family has had it rough” and “you must fund your doctor’s vacations.” The thing is though, well other than the last one, I don’t feel like any of that is true.

My son was diagnosed with a life-threatening cancer at 10-years-old. We were told he may never walk again. At 13, he has beaten LCH, runs, walks and rides a bike like a normal kid and even performs in Circus Mojo doing a variety of acts that use his legs. He didn’t die. He can walk. He is funny and caring. I think that is pretty lucky.

joy wheelchair

After surgery in 2012

joey german

2014

 

Andi has suffered from migraines since she was 9 with no real explanation. She will be 16 this month. That sucks but they aren’t caused by epilepsy, a tumor or a serious disease. They are most likely hormonal and will eventually be under control. That is lucky.

Andi has suffered from a concussion since April 19 and has had a heck of a time with it. She was hospitalized for two and a half days, she can only attend half days at school, she is nauseous all the time and definitely doesn’t feel herself. A girl, who was less than five feet from Andi, kicked the soccer ball so hard that when it hit Andi in the face, it knocked her to the ground. She didn’t lose consciousnesses. The pediatrician told us the only thing that would make this concussion worse is if she was knocked unconsciousness. I think the fact that she didn’t is pretty lucky. When neurology admitted her at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, they told us she could be there two to six days. She wasn’t even there for three full days. That was lucky.

my cutie kids

my cutie kids

She is still dealing with the concussion. It is hard on our family. She can only go to school half days, which requires a lot of juggling. However, we have awesome friends and family who are helping us with that. We are so lucky to have those people in our lives.

We are also lucky to have Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, one of the number one hospitals in the country, 15 minutes from our home. We are lucky to have one of the top two LCH doctors in the country 15 minutes from our home. We are lucky to have one of the best children’s neurology teams in the country 15 minutes from our home. Really, what more could we ask for? Well, maybe for better health insurance or someone to pay our medical bills. Ha!

We’re good. Don’t feel sorry for us. We are pretty lucky!

family shot (2)

A Familiar Place

family shot (2)What was once a very scary and confusing place is now a familiar and comforting place for me and my family. “I know this place like the back of my hand,” my 15-year-old daughter Andi said after telling me where the closest water fountain was at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center main campus. I giggled and reflected on the last three years.

Three years ago, we could barely find the ER when needed to or the neurology department on A8, which we had just been introduced to a few years earlier. We would often find ourselves lost in the building if we had to park in a different part of the garage or use a different entrance. But not any more.

Almost three years ago, my son Joey who is now 13, was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis, a rare disease that doctors argue over whether or not it’s cancer. His white blood cells ate his hip bone causing him to need a bone graft, months in a wheel chair, steroid treatment, months with a walker and then crutches and years of physical therapy (read stories posted HERE for information about LCH and Joey’s battle).

In those three years we have gone from barely being able to find the ER when needed and neurology for Andi’s migraines to knowing where the cool art is in the building, where to find a water fountain, the best items on the lunch menu, where oncology, orthopedics, physical therapy, blood draw, radiology, the emergency room, behavioral medicine, a quiet outside area and so much more are located. We can give directions to those new to the hospital. We are no longer shocked by some of the things we see like children with missing limbs, those in body casts or little ones with burned bodies. We are still saddened but no longer shocked.

We now have favorite nurses in several departments. We know staff members by name, and they know us. We know which techs are better at drawing blood and giving shots. We know which clinics have the best coffee and hot chocolate. We even know most of the valets by name because when you have a kid in a wheelchair or pain, you let someone else park the car. We know how to get massages for the patient and mom, how to get discounted meals and where to get a breath of fresh air without worrying about the neighboring community. We know what days we can find Circus Mojo performing and in which clinics.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is so big and complex that it used to be a scary place to my family. Now oddly enough, we find comfort being there. We seek out our favorite art piece, a framed quilt (read about it), when we need a good distraction. We go outside near Alvin and the Chipmunks when we need fresh air. We bring our favorite nurses cookies from time to time and stop by to see our favorite doctors or staff members just to say hi between appointments.

I think the reason it brings so much comfort is because before Joey was diagnosed and in pain, we were lost and frustrated. We needed answers and it was Dr. Neil Johnson at Cincinnati Children’s who gave us those answers and put Joey on the road to recovery. Dr. Johnson is a hero in our eyes, along with all the other doctors, nurses and staff who helped us along the way. The doctors at Children’s have also helped Andi with her migraines. Everyone there is so kind and reassuring.

We’ve learned things aren’t always as scary as they seem and sometimes the places that seem the scariest might just be where you can get the most comfort.

We’re Not Famous

I’m not famous. My children aren’t famous. Neither is my husband. In fact, there isn’t a single famous person in my family or circle of friends. But I still see all of my family members and friends as super stars. Especially my almost 13-year-old son Joey, AKA Super Joey. Joey is known for his strength and knocking Langerhans out.

Super Joey

Super Joey

Joey isn’t muscular or a big guy. In fact, he’s only 5’1 and under 75 pounds. Yet he still knocked out Langerhans, which was pretty amazing since Langerhans is vicious. I’ve gotten to know him over the last few years and he devours people, mostly kids. Nothing is off limits – he’ll go for the bones, organs and even skin, whatever he can do to take to out his victim. Sometimes even death. It takes a lot to be able to stand up to Langerhans and fight back and even more to beat him down. No, Langerhans isn’t some new trendy boys name or a nickname for a terrible bully.

Langerhans – Langerhans Cell Histiocytois – is a horrible rare cancer that my son beat. This disease, often argued by doctors is to whether it is cancer or an autoimmune disease, is ferocious. It ate Joey’s hip bone causing him to need a bone graft, spend months in a wheelchair, go through lots of physical therapy and much more. Two years later, he still deals with chronic bone pain that puts him on crutches or in a wheelchair for weeks at a time. But the good news is, the LCH is gone. The doctors told him he’s whooped it’s butt and they can’t imagine it will ever attack again. Woohoo!

Super Joey

Super Joey

You’d think we’d be celebrating everyday! And we have celebrated. We are truly ecstatic for Joey but not all of our friends have been so lucky. Our 19-year-old friend Ian Anderson, who also isn’t famous, has LCH in his pituitary gland. He’s been through chemo, surgeries and so much more. He’s probably looking at some sort of life-long treatment and/or follow up.

Princess Sophia

Princess Sophia

Our sweet 5-year-old friend Sophia Lopez, who is not famous either, has another form of Histio – Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis. This beautiful 5-year-old has spent most of her life in hospitals. She and her mom have traveled to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital from New York City to get the best care possible. They have been living at the Ronald McDonald House for a year while Sophia’s dad and brothers are back in New York. The men her life travel to Cincinnati as often as they can to see their Princess Warrior who has been through chemo, a bone marrow transplant, multiple surgeries and much much more. But that gets expensive and vacation time runs out.

We also think of our friends the Culley/Marshall family. They aren’t famous either. But their daughter Ellisyn is a hero in my eyes. Langerhans didn’t hold back at all when it attacked Ellisyn. By the time she was diagnosed with LCH, it was too late. Ellisyn lost her battle at 15 months old.

So although we are thrilled for Joey, there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t think about this horrible disease – Histio, Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis, Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis – that has attacked Super Joey as well as some of our friends (we all met as a result of diagnosis – Histio attacks five in a million).

Most people have never heard of Histio. It doesn’t receive government funding for research, there is no sure cure and there is no known cause. We just know it sucks and can kill. I know some people might think I’m horrible for what I’m about to say but… there are MANY days I wish that a famous person or a famous person’s child would get Histio. Yes, I feel horrible for even saying it but hear me out.

Bengal Player Devon Still’s beautiful daughter Leah was diagnosed with Nueroblastoma and over $1 million was raised in an extremely short period of time. This is awesome! The money went to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital cancer research, which is fantastic. I hate that Leah has this horrible disease but it has brought tons of awareness to Nueroblastoma and childhood cancer.

Lauren Hill, the Mount Saint Joseph Basketball player with an inoperable brain turmor, became famous with the help of the media and has now raised more than $324,000 for the Cure Starts Now. It is horrible that Lauren has been stricken with this disease and she has deserved every bit of media attention she has gotten. She is truly an inspiration to all and I believe her strength and courage will help find a cure for this some day. I have followed her story from day one, cried through the ENTIRE basketball game and will be devastated when she passes. I will always remember that brave angel.

joey rareBut again, I often find myself wishing someone famous or their child would get Histio. I don’t want them to go through all the pain and anguish my friends and family have gone through. I just want that famous person to have a voice for all of us. Believe me, the Anderson, Lopez, Culley/Marshall and Holt/Stegner families have a loud voice. We have been on local media, held fundraisers and educated people but none of us our famous. We don’t have the outlet or the reach that someone famous has. We need a famous person to raise awareness for Histio, to raise funds for research, to help the families fighting this horrible disease and to encourage others to remember the angels we have lost.

##

Note: Please contact me at gina5620@gmail.com to learn more about Histio or find out how you can help… You don’t have to be famous. 🙂

A True Histio Warrior

Super Joey

Super Joey

My head is swimming right now. Joey had a follow up with oncology today. He is two years free of active disease. That means there has been no evidence of Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis for 24 months! Dr. Palumbo, Joey’s oncologist, considers Joey Histio-free and no longer a risk for relapse! Now with that said there is still a small chance but it’s VERY small. Dr. Palumbo said we no longer have to follow up with him unless we need him. Wohoo!!

So you would think I would be partying and overjoyed right now but I’m actually experiencing a mixture of feelings. Joey went to this appointment in a wheelchair. He is having horrible leg pain. The same type of leg pain that he has experienced for two years since his biopsy and bone graft. Dr. Kenneth McClain, the world’s leading LCH expert, told me via email that he sees this type of unexplained pain in patients who have had bone LCH often. Unfortunately he doesn’t know why or how to fix it although he said it’s something he’s working on.

Dr. Palumbo, our social worker Molly and Dr. Palumbo’s assistant Michelle asked Joey’s dad (Troy) and I to go to a conference room while Joey stayed behind. During our walk to the conference room I started thinking they were going to ask me if he was faking. I even whispered to Troy that they better not state that. I was ready to go off if they even brought up the idea. That’s not why we were called in though. In fact, they repeatedly stated they knew he wasn’t faking.

Dr. Palumbo assured us that there is no active disease and he is not worried about it attacking again. He did say however that he was concerned about Joey’s pain. Joey has post traumatic stress disorder. Dr. Palumbo suggested that maybe some of the pain is stress and anxiety related. His dad and I completely agree with that. None of us believe it is the only thing causing the pain but it is definitely a contributing factor.

The oncology team was happy to hear that we already have Joey seeing a psychologist at Cincinnati Children’s and referrals for a psychologist who deals with pain and biofeedback and a psychiatrist who works with kids who deal with anxiety and have been through a lot.

Dr. Palumbo did bring up something that I have thought about and talked with Joey’s psychologist about a thousand times… Joey and I have been very active in the Histio community with raising awareness and money. He asked if it would be easier on Joey if we weren’t so involved. I knew what he was going to ask before he finished the question because I have thought about it so many times. I have discussed it with Joey. I explained to Dr. Palumbo that Joey says he has to be a spokesperson for these kids who are so sick that they can’t speak for themselves. I also told him that the psychologist feels this is to important to Joey to give up. But I completely understand him asking questions. He also asked if Joey understood that he didn’t have the type of LCH that is fatal. Joey absolutely knows that. However, Joey often has dreams that the LCH is back or that one of his friends with Histio takes a turn for the worst.

Once we went back to the examination room, Dr. Palumbo told Joey that I shared his dream with him. “Joey, I need you to know that you are not going to die and I am confident the LCH is no coming back,” Dr. Palumbo said to Joey. I think Joey needed to hear that. He needed to know that his oncologist believes he is completely fine. Dr. Palumbo also told him he was concerned about his anxiety and thought it was contributing to the pain. He told Joey he was so confident that the Histio wasn’t coming back that he didn’t need to follow up with oncology any more. Joey seemed a little relieved.

He still has to follow up with orthopedics so they can check his bone graft. He will continue counseling, massage therapy and physical therapy.

Although I’m relieved the disease is inactive, I worry about his worry and leg pain. I hope everyday that I am making the right decisions and not contributing to his anxiety. So now we concentrate on letting go of the worry (for both of us) and getting him pain-free again.

Fighting Through the Pain

Laying in bed last night I kept hearing a noise in the distance. At first I thought was it a cat outside? But then I realized… it was crying… it was Joey crying.  He had been dealing with pain on and off for weeks now but it had become unbearable last night.

Joey has missed about six days of school since mid-August due to leg and hip pain. He ends up in the nurses office almost daily, sometimes a few times a day, to stretch and try to deal with the pain. It often becomes too much and he comes home early from school.joy wheelchair

This is a side effect from Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (Histio or LCH). LCH has recently been reclassified as a cancer instead of a cancer-like disease. Joey’s white blood cells attacked his hip bone eating it away. After a month or more of excruciating pain he was diagnosed, had major surgery, spent a lot of time in Cincinnati Children’s Medical Hospital, spent months in a wheel chair and years in physical therapy. The Histio is inactive at this time but the pain isn’t. In fact, it has become more and more frequent. The unexplained pains can last an hour, days or weeks. It prevents him from being able to do normal kid things

His sis gives him a lift

His sis gives him a lift

We have tried prescription pain meds, over the counter pain meds, yoga, acupuncture, Reiki, vitamins, herbs, a special diet, massage, chiropractor, heat, ice, a tens unit and lots of physical therapy. Medicine doesn’t seem to help at all. The multi vitamin, protien shake and Turmeric definitely doesn’t hurt him so he continues to take it. Reiki, massage, acupuncture, PT, heat and the tens unit give temporary relief. Temporary relief is better than no relief so we continue to do these things no matter the cost or sacrifice.

I spoke to the lead LCH expert via email recently. Dr. McClain told me that the unexplained pain seems to be common in those with bone LCH and he hopes to some day figure out why and how to get rid of this horrible side effect. We can only hope and pray that he or another doctor figures it out. But until then, we continue to try anything we can think of.  And when Joey isn’t looking, I break down in tears because it’s not fair that my almost 13-year-old boy has to live with chronic pain.

 

Hot tub therapy

Hot tub therapy

 

 

Circus Mojo Helped Heal My Son

Joey, 12, was suffering from unexplained pain again for the last month… Joey was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis when he was 10-years-old. The cancer-like disease ate his hip bone away causing him to need a bone graft. Although no one was sure if he’d walk normally again, he can run, play and ride a bike like any other kid… most of the time. But then there are times that he is in such severe pain that he can only get around on crutches or in a wheelchair for weeks or even months at a time. Unfortunately it’s just a horrible side effect of this horrible disease.

joy wheelchair

So in early May the unexplained pain started again in his left leg. It eventually got so bad that he was on crutches again, missing school and using the wheelchair quite a bit. Joey became frustrated and borderline depressed. He was missing out on end of the school year fun, couldn’t ride his bike with his buddies or go do anything fun. His oncologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center ordered test after test to make sure the Histio was not attacking again. Once that was ruled out Joey was able to start physical therapy again. He couldn’t even put pressure on his left foot at the evaluation that Friday. The therapist gave him a few exercises he did over the weekend.

The following Monday he headed to day camp at Circus Mojo in Ludlow, Ky. We knew about Circus Mojo because Paul, the owner, and Sharon, an employee, would often perform in the waiting room of orthopedics at Children’s Hospital when we were there. Joey enjoyed them so much that he had me schedule his appointments around their performance times. Joey and his buddy August headed to camp with Joey’s crutches and wheelchair in tow.

The Circus Mojo staff was awesome about accommodating our special situation. I spoke to Ginny in advance to make sure all would be okay. Paul and his crew made Joey take things slow and didn’t push him to do things that might be hard on his leg. He had physical therapy immediately after camp that day. He couldn’t stop talking about how fun camp was and he was able to get around a little better. The second day of camp came and he was able to do a little more. On the third day he could do even more but there was still one act he wanted to do but Paul told him was too dangerous if he still needed to use crutches. He had PT that afternoon and told his therapist he had to get stronger so he could do everything at camp. On Thursday he arrived at camp with one crutch and barely used it. He was able to do the act.

joey wheel

I drove the boys to camp on Friday. They were both so excited because they were going to learn even more that day and then perform for the families in the afternoon. I showed up for the afternoon performance and could see how excited all the kids were.

joey w circus friends

Joey actually climbed the silks and did what’s called the reverse diaper drop. He was able to walk on a wheel, balance all kinds of things, juggle scarves and so much more. It was awesome! I couldn’t believe this was the same kid who could barely walk at all a week ago. He couldn’t stop smiling.

joey whip pie

I truly believe that camp at Circus Mojo camp played part in Joey’s physical therapy. It gave him a challenge and a goal. He wanted to be able to participate everything. In order to do that he had to do his PT exercises and push himself. It also helped him emotionally and mentally. It gave him something to look forward to everyday. He was excited about learning new acts and seeing his new friends. Camp provided an incentive for him to push himself and get better.

The really awesome part was by Friday… he didn’t need the crutches or wheelchair at all anymore so Joey and Paul found another use for them.

joey balance

Waiting for results

I’m sitting in a very small room right now with my son at Cincinnati Children’s Medical Hospital. It’s basically a large closet with a hospital bed, a shelf, a computer, monitor and owl stickers on the walls. Joey is lying in the hospital bed waiting for his Pet Scan. He’s been given pain medicine and other meds necessary for the scan. He looks so relaxed and peaceful as he watches Frozen on the portable DVD player. His eyes are barely open.

joey hospital

He’s not been this peaceful or pain-free in weeks. It brings tears to my eyes to see him like this, to see him at peace.

We are waiting for his Pet Scan. He has to have medicine in him for 45 minutes before the scan can begin. They will scan his entire body hoping not to find any new tumors. Hoping the Histio has not returned. He has pain in his left leg, hip and ankle. It could be that the Histio is eating his bones away again or that he is having another episode of unexplained pain. Although unexplained pain is frustrating, we are hoping for that. If that’s the case we will probably start physical therapy again.

If it is Histio…. we will kick it’s butt!

My Histio Warrior Celebrates 2 Years

Joey had a hip bone graft and biopsy two years ago today followed by months of being in a wheelchair, using a walker, using crutches and more than a year of physical therapy. Today, he rode his bike a mile to school. My 12-year-old son Joey is a Histio warrior. On April, 23, 2012, he was diagnosed with Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis. On April 25, 2012, he had major surgery.

joey bike

Although Joey deals with unexplained chronic pain at times, he has not relapsed. Histio is similar to cancer and if it attacks again, he will need chemotherapy. We pray everyday that he will continue to be in remission. At this point, other than checking in with the doctors at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital every few months, Joey could put this disease behind him unless it flares again. But he won’t do that. He is a true warrior. He is fighting for his friends, some he has met and others who he just knows of, who have Histio.

histio image

This picture was borrowed from another Histio warrior.

As I have said before, there is no known cause or cure for this disease. And since it’s considered rare, there is very little funding for research. Histio experts can be found at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and a Children’s Hospital in Texas. Dr. McClain from Texas came out with a new finding recently that does give Histio families a little more hope because the doctors are starting to understand the disease a little more. You can read that here.

Joey wants to find a cure for himself and his friends. He educates people about his disease whenever he can, he talks to the media, does things for the Histio Association and participates in fundraisers. You can celebrate Joey’s two year anniversary by donating to the Histio Association in his name – Joey Holt – or by donating to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center for Histio research in honor of Joey Holt (be sure to write that in the comments).

Our lives changed forever the day Joey was diagnosed and even more so on April 25, 2012 after surgery. But this challenged that was thrown at us has made us appreciate life much more over the last two years. We will find a cure for our friends.

be thankful