Josie started treatment immediately. After one month, a bone marrow biopsy revealed that they were unable to detect leukemia cells in that sample, another sign that she was likely to be cured.
“We lived in Gainesville the whole first month of her treatment,” Anthony said. “She went through one blood infusion early on, and then cycles of other treatments. We did at-home medicine and chemotherapy through an IV in addition to spinal taps to check for and prevent cancer from developing in her brain.”
The logistics of traveling to Gainesville became challenging for Josie and her family. After that first month, the family traveled back and forth from Tallahassee as often as treatment was needed.
“Amy and I were looking forward to 2020 because in February, Josie was done with her first five cycles of treatment, which meant she would just have the maintenance cycles for another year and five months after that,” Anthony said. “With the maintenance cycles, Josie receives low-dose medication for a long period of time, so she could have found some normalcy, including returning to school.”
Josie’s hair had started growing back, and she was excited to return to school on March 7 after her blood work results came back within normal range. That same night, the family received a call from William Slayton, M.D., the chief of pediatric hematology/oncology at UF Health, who led Josie’s treatment plan. An unexpected turn of events crushed Josie’s hope for normalcy.
“It’s been our long tradition to send our kids back to school during maintenance,” Slayton said. “I wish we could have done this for Josie. However, several children with this form of leukemia have gotten really sick from COVID-19 during maintenance. Until we do a better job controlling COVID-19 in our communities, kids like Josie will not be able to safely attend in-person school until after they complete their treatment. I felt terrible that I didn’t have better news.”