Childhood Cancer Heroes

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Hazel Altbaum

  • Age 2
  • Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)
  • Rady Children's Hospital
  • Chemotherapy

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On the outside, Hazel was a fun and loving almost two-year-old. She loved singing, dancing, coloring and playing on the iPad. She adored and looked up to her sister so much. They had fun playing together (especially princesses and almost everything Disney) and Hazel learned almost everything she knows from her high-energy, spunky, 4 ½ sister, Raya. Despite battling leukemia for over a year, Hazel met all of her developmental milestones and loved being around her family and dog Zara.

At Hazel’s 9 month well baby checkup in August 2015, a routine blood test showed a few abnormal results. She was sent to Rady Children's Hospital for further investigation. Aside from the abnormal result from a routine test, her family would have never known anything was wrong with her. After a two-day stay in the hospital and a bone marrow test, the doctors knew Hazel had leukemia cells, but she did not have enough to diagnose her type of leukemia. She was sent home and monitored closely for two weeks. Then, she had a repeat bone marrow test and was diagnosed with acute myleoid leukemia (AML). 

Following diagnosis, Hazel received introductory chemotherapy, which was a month-long stay in the hospital.  At that point, there was no detectable disease and she was allowed to go home for a week before returning for her next round of chemotherapy -- another 5 weeks inpatient. Due to her aggressive type of leukemia, her best option was to move forward with a bone marrow transplant following two rounds of chemotherapy. A donor was found, lined up and Hazel had a break at home for 2 weeks. In November 2015, she was admitted for another round of chemo and then a week later she received her new donor cells. She did great during recovery and could go home the week before Christmas! Unfortunately just two months after receiving her transplant, she began to relapse in January 2016. Since then, she has been treated using some low toxic chemotherapies which she receives 5 days a week every 4 weeks at an outpatient clinic. She has also received several donor cell infusions, hoping that by pushing more of the donor cells into her it will push the leukemia out. Because her immune system is so low, she is mostly confined to the house and her clinic appointments. She receives platelets about once a week and red blood transfusions about every 3 weeks. When outside the house, she must always wear a mask to protect her from germs. Another bone marrow transplant from a new donor is the only option for a chance at long term survival. She will be admitted to the hospital for one round of heavy chemotherapy followed by chemo preparation and the second transplant in the coming months.

Hazel is a hero because she endured more in the past 13 months than anybody should have to endure in a lifetime!

Hazel’s mother, Lynn, hopes that Hazel has the opportunity to enjoy things that normal toddlers get to do. She cannot go places like the playground, Disneyland, Sea World or the zoo. Lynn wants her to be able to attend her sister’s school, dance and gymnastics recitals and shows. She wants Hazel to eat out at restaurants and go on vacations. She wants Hazel to experience LIFE, have a first day of school, experience her first tooth falling out, have a first kiss and boyfriend, get into college, get her first job and get married. She wants to be a family for many years to come. She hopes a CURE is found and these children and families do not have to suffer anymore.

Lynn wants others who may have recently received a cancer diagnosis to know that everybody said that we would now have a new normal, which is true, but there is nothing normal about our life now. You learn to adjust. Some friends you have had forever will not understand what you are going through. The families you meet in the hospital will become a second family. Don't be afraid to ask the same questions over and over again; don't be afraid to ask any questions! This doesn't go away overnight; it is a long road with lots of twist, turns and bumps. Try not to look too far into the future and take things day by day. Statistics are just numbers and each person/child has their own journey.

During Hazel’s treatment, her family found a Shakespeare quote that perfectly describes Hazel: “And though she be but little, she is fierce.”

Information submitted by Lynn Altbaum, Hazel’s Mother
Updated September 2016

UPDATE - Sadly, Hazel passed away in April of 2017.

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