Childhood Cancer Heroes

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Greta Oberhofer

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Greta is a sweet girl who loves to be goofy and make jokes so others will laugh. She loves animals, but penguins and elephants are the ones she loves best! She recently took a ballet class and enjoyed it quite a lot. She's very curious and inquisitive. This summer, she found a praying mantis and was the only child who wanted to hold it! Recently, Greta declared that she absolutely loves broccoli! She likes cakes and cookies too. There's not much Greta doesn't like, in fact! At age 4, she has quite a vocabulary and speaks very clearly. Pint-sized and wise beyond her years, she usually shocks people when she opens up her mouth to speak. She's a pleasure to hang out with, a great sister, friend and petter of pets.

Greta, her older sister and younger brother love helping kids with cancer. Last year, they emptied their piggy banks and each selected a special toy to bring to a toy drive held by a family whose child died of infant leukemia. They're compassionate and empathetic little souls who have been through quite a lot! 

Greta was diagnosed as an infant at the tender age of 3 ½ -months. She had fevers of unknown origin and was unable to keep food down. Finally after a week or so of confusing symptoms, her mother and her nanny felt she looked rather pale so they made an urgent appointment to see the pediatrician. Greta's pediatrician noted an enlarged spleen, took a fingerpick and ran a quick hemoglobin test. Because of an abnormally low result, Greta was rushed to Doernbecher Children's Hospital, where she was diagnosed with leukemia just a few hours later.

After several rounds of chemotherapy, Greta had a first-remission bone marrow treatment using the marrow of her then 2-year-old big sister, who is also a hero in this story! Sadly, despite the best doctors and care imaginable, Greta fared poorly through the transplant and spent many weeks in intensive care and on dialysis due to liver and kidney failure. She pulled through, as heroes do, and had six happy months at home, before relapsing. Greta and her family feel so fortunate that Seattle Children's had just opened a trial that she qualified for (funded in part by an ALSF infrastructure grant). They packed up their home, shipped their pets to live with family and relocated to Seattle so Greta could have a chance at life via an immunotherapy (CAR-T) trial. This treatment was very gentle and best of all, it worked for Greta! She has been in remission for almost two and half years. 

Greta’s mother, Maggie says, “We find ourselves thankful literally every day for the hopes and dreams we are seeing Greta realize!” Seeing her try something new, experience a strong emotion or just watching her burst through her bedroom door in the morning all really seems like a dream come true! Her family hopes Greta feels empowered to do anything in life that makes her happy and keeps her healthy. Childhood cancer survivors have a tough road ahead and they hope to be able to teach her how to make good food and lifestyle choices that will help her to live her best life despite her rough start.

Greta is a tough cookie. Not much fazes her. She faces pain and challenges bravely and goes about her business after the tough stuff is over like nothing has happened. She lives in the moment. Greta gets weekly infusions to help her stay infection free since she remains immunocompromised. She directs where she'd like the needles placed and never cries. She focuses more on the fact that she gets to pick a movie to watch during her infusion. She always sees the bright side of things! Recently, she even surprised her endocrinologist by asking if she could please have her blood taken that day because she really likes the prizes they have in the lab!  

Maggie wants others, who may have recently received a cancer diagnosis, to know that it's a tough road, that's for sure. There will be an end to all of this and life will go on. But you will learn more about yourself, your family and medicine than you ever thought possible. You will see the worst of things, but also the best of things as folks near and far, family, friends and even strangers rally around you as you fight this. You are a partner with your doctors in this. Tell them what you think! Don't be afraid to advocate for what you think is best. And last, but very not least: Take it a day at a time. 

Greta’s family needed help in so many ways, so ALSF means a lot to their family. ALSF helped them to secure lodging when they had to uproot and travel through the Travel For Care program. ALSF helps fund vital research, like the trial that saved Greta's life. Maggie’s uncle, who visited them during the transplant had always given money to various causes through his workplace. He called Maggie a few years ago to ask what she thought of ALSF because he thought of directing his funds that way. Maggie said yes, of course! He was personally touched by Greta’s story and Maggie hopes others are too and are motivated to help. They also ran into a lemonade stand a few months back. A man was dressed as a T cell handing out lemonade! They got lemonade and then told them about Greta's special connection. They were thrilled to meet a T cell hero in the flesh and see her enjoy her lemonade!

Information provided by Maggie Oberhofer, Greta’s mother
Updated January 2017

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