Tony was diagnosed with stage IV, high-risk neuroblastoma in June of 2006 when he was nearly 3-years-old. Tony was complaining that his tummy hurt when he ate and he was waking up in the middle of the night sweating and crying. Since Tony's baby sister was due to be born in just 2 1/2 weeks, his pediatrician gave him a thorough exam (including an abdominal ultrasound) and thus began his odyssey into the world of cancer. He immediately had 5 rounds of chemotherapy, followed by resection surgery to remove the tumor in his abdominal cavity. He then had 2 stem cell transplants, total body radiation, spot radiation and t-cell rescue. All the while, being the strongest, bravest boy and the best big brother any one could imagine.
During the final oral medication (13-cis retinoic acid) phase of Tony's treatment, his kidneys began to have decreased function. This required Tony to have blood draws twice a week and EPO injections 3 times a week. We know that no 3 1/2 year old likes needles, but he handled them with the most amazing attitude, even thanking the nurses for giving him stickers seconds after they poked him. Tony's stem cell transplants also required him to be re-immunized from scratch - shots every other month, and still, he looks forward to his pediatrician appointments with a big smile!
Even after everything he has been through, he enjoys going to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to "visit his friends.” When Tony is not at CHOP receiving treatment, he has been having FUN making up for the childhood things he missed over the past several years. He has been to a New York Yankees game, he got to be fire chief for a day, he went fishing on a party boat, he got a behind the scenes adventure at the Six Flags Safari, a wish trip to Give Kids The World Village in Florida and more. As a family, we celebrate even the smallest most mundane events that most of the world overlooks. It was a BIG event the first time Tony bought ice cream from the ice cream man!
Four years after diagnosis, Tony is still dealing with multiple side-effects from his treatment including, but not limited to high frequency hearing loss in one ear, cataracts that developed on both eyes resulting in lens replacement surgery, the loss of one kidney and growth hormone replacement treatment. Despite it all, Tony has adjusted well to being a "normal kid.”
He is in first grade, cub scouts and karate. He enjoys running "Alex's Lemonade Stands" whenever he can. Anyone that meets Tony is amazed by his compassion for others - he's quick with an arm around the shoulder for anyone that needs a pick-me-up or a kind word of encouragement. He continues to be our inspiration every day!
Written by: Tony’s Mom, Karen Salerno