“It’s kind of like running into a brick wall,” Oklahoma 4-year-old diagnosed with cancer after finding knot on stomach

Kids with Courage
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OKLAHOMA CITY - It's a crisp winter day, and the Oakley family is spending it together at the Oklahoma City zoo.

Shannon Oakley is based at Tinker Air Force Base. He and his wife, Stephanie Oakley, have three children ages 4 and under.

Their oldest child, Caleb, is bouncing up and down. One of the animals he's most excited to see is the rhinoceros.

Life moves fast for the young family but, a few months ago, they were forced to slow way down.

"It's kind of like running into a brick wall," Stephanie said.

Their 4-year-old, Caleb, was having a routine checkup when a discovery was made.

"The doctor was feeling his stomach, and they felt a knot," Stephanie said.

The family went home because the consensus was it was just harmless constipation. It turns out the knot was really a dangerous tumor.

That was discovered a short time later, after a 20-hour ordeal in the emergency room. Doctors ran test after test to verify the scary diagnosis.

Stephanie remembers the physically and emotionally exhausting day.

"It was rhadomyosarcoma. It was his muscle cells. I was numb. It was really hard," she said.

Dr. Joel Thompson from Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer explains the diagnosis as "a type of cancer that comes from immature muscle cells that don't grow and mature as they're supposed to."

Thompson said, upon learning about a rare cancer diagnosis like this, some families want full medical school explanations of exactly what is going on and where their path will go. Other families, like the Oakleys, want the doctor's bottom line.

"I try to preserve that hope," he said. "I try to nurture that hope while still being very honest with them and letting them know what we're up against and what the road is going to look like."

For Caleb, that hope involved a journey through two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.

His younger sister has watched her brother through his many clinic visits and tired days of recovery at home. She's had to adapt too and know he's not up for hours of play like she's used to.

The family said the support they've been given at Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer has been a huge help.

"It feels like there is one big family up here and everyone knows what everyone is going through and, if you need something, you just to ask."

Thompson asks Caleb if he can find the tickle monster as he examines his abdomen. He said what stands out about the little boy is his resilience.

"You're doing great," he said as Caleb gives him a high five.

He's part of Caleb's team, rooting for the boy to eventually be free from cancer.

If you'd like to help kids like Caleb fight cancer, consider making a donation to JECFriends.org.

Kids with Courage is sponsored by the Jimmy Everest Center. 


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