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Tenzin Tanaka

  • Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

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Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

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Tenzin is an outgoing, silly and stubborn little boy. He enjoys all things Minecraft. He is very creative and builds lots of things with LEGOs, cardboard and tape. His favorite superhero has been The Flash ever since he was 3 years old. He really loves doing karate, and basically lives in onesies of various styles and characters. He is an amazing and empathetic younger brother to Paxton.

Prior to his diagnosis, Tenzin was going back and forth to the doctor for months. He initially presented with higher-than-normal levels of anxiety and fatigue, often requesting to stay home from school. He was tested for allergies, but all were negative. Then he developed an ear infection and had asthma. Within two days after an ER visit resulting in a para influenza 3 diagnosis, he was vomiting water, had blood-cracked lips and could barely stand. His mother, Colleen, took him back to the ER where bloodwork confirmed he had T-cell leukemia.

Tenzin started induction while in the PICU soon after. He had a PICC line placed and a catheter, and on the first night he was admitted, he underwent blood pheresis treatment. By his second night he was receiving chemotherapy. Tenzin quickly became malnourished and had trouble keeping his medication down without vomiting, so in August he had an NG tube placed, which was soon replaced with a G-tube.

Tenzin has endured three difficult hospital stays, the longest being four weeks and the shortest 16 days.

Today he is in the maintenance stage of treatment. It is not an easy ride but Tenzin continues to stay strong.

Colleen’s hopes are that Tenzin can recover and go back to being a kid again soon. It breaks her heart to feel like he has lost some of his childhood. She’d love to see him a bit more carefree. However, he has already shown signs of growing from this experience spiritually and emotionally, and she hopes that continues. She would like to see him use this experience to inspire or help others.

Tenzin is her hero because even though he is only 9 years old, he tolerates more than most adults would. He speaks his mind, advocates for himself and comes out better on the other end each and every time.

Colleen also has some encouraging words for those who may also be facing a childhood cancer diagnosis: “It is true what everyone says... take it day by day or even minute by minute. It is very easy to become overwhelmed by all of the information and normal life pressures. I feel that this experience has changed my priorities and slowed me down as a mother. I take the time to watch the video, listen to the story or play the game now that I might not have before. Also remember that although your child is going through this, it is you who holds the majority of the emotional weight. It is ok to not be ok. It is ok to cry in the shower or not want to talk or explain things over and over again. Be patient with yourself.”

To Colleen, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation means that what Tenzin is enduring will eventually help others. “I hope after all of the bloodwork, chemo and research, we can one day say that childhood cancer is curable and treatments are non-toxic to our children.”

"I think Jesus gave me cancer so that we learn to appreciate what we have." - Tenzin

"Mom it’s ok, if it makes it easier on you and less stressful I will do what is best for all of us and not just myself." – Paxton, Tenzin’s brother

Information provided by Colleen T., Tenzin’s mom
Updated August 2023

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