“People would say ‘I feel bad for her’…I’m the same person that I ever was, but better, stronger,” said 14-year-old Shannon Curley as she reflects on the time she spent in isolation treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “I wouldn’t change anything that has happened to me. I’ve met so many amazing people and learned some important things.”
In December of 2012, middle school basketball star and Billerica native, Shannon Curley, was diagnosed with acute bilineal leukemia. Due to the rarity and nature of her leukemia, doctors recommended an aggressive treatment plan. After three months of treatment, Shannon received a lifesaving bone marrow transplant and was put on a recovery plan that included a year in isolation to build up her immune system.
“After she got out of the hospital, Shannon had to go into a year of out-patient isolation treatment. Her immune system had been suppressed so that her body would not reject the bone marrow and that made her susceptible to infection,” explains Shannon’s mother, Carol Curley. “Although we were at Dana-Farber regularly, we’re lucky that she could go through isolation treatment at home. She was able to make friends on the isolation floor during her visits to Dana-Farber.”
While in confinement Shannon kept a positive attitude and even offered support to other patients receiving treatment at Dana-Farber.
“I didn’t get the chance to meet everybody on the isolation floor because of the different severities of isolation treatment. I did have friends that went through treatment at the same time as me and we hung out every day,” said Shannon. “If you were in that hospital you would know it is not lonely.”
During Shannon’s out-patient isolation recovery she met 10-year-old Zack Hare from Spencer, Massachusetts who had been diagnosed with FLT3 positive acute myelogeouns leukemia (AML). Doctors at Dana-Farber agreed that a bone marrow transplant and in-patient isolation treatment at Dana-Farber were the best options to eradicate Zack’s cancer, which has a higher rate of relapse.
“We are so lucky that we lived only an hour away from Dana-Farber’s amazing facilities and could make routine trips to visit Zack at the hospital,” said Zack’s mother, Amy Hare. “We always saw familiar faces when we arrived and that was comforting. Zack was able to bond with the doctors and nurses. He was even able to make friends with other patients including a young girl named Shannon.”
Like Shannon, Zack loves playing basketball and is an avid Boston Red Sox fan. They quickly bonded and became friends. The two credit their friendship for helping them through this difficult time in their lives.
“When we knew Zack and his family were in the room next to us we would knock on the wall to say hi. It was nice to know we had friends there,” says Shannon’s mother, Carol Curley. “As a parent, all you want for your kid during treatment is to see glimpses of happiness and smiles. You want them to connect with other kids because cancer treatment can be such an isolating experience. When Shannon met Zack that began to happen. I have seen these types of bonds form at the Jimmy Fund Clinic over and over again.”
“Zack and Shannon formed a bond that will never be broken,” explains Amy. “During isolation treatment they would hang out with the nurses until all hours of the night and watch movies together—they even made a music video. Most importantly, they were there for each other during this very difficult time.”
Today, Shannon and Zack are healthy and doing better than ever. The two remain friends and work together to bring awareness to childhood cancer across Massachusetts.
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