“As a parent, you never want to hear that your child has cancer,” said Paul Esposito, of Plano, Texas. “It creates an emotion that starts at your feet and takes hold. It’s devastating.”
This was the terrible news Paul and his family received in 2010 when his son, Zane Esposito, was only 7 years old. Zane, now 12, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in June 2010. Zane underwent three grueling years of cancer treatment, including 365 days of chemotherapy, before reaching remission. Two years later, Zane relapsed in January of this year. Their only option: another three years of aggressive chemotherapy.
“I really don’t like chemo, it’s the worst,” said Zane. “My back hurt super bad due to tiny fractures from the chemo. I couldn’t even bend over to tie my shoes. And here I was having to start another three years all over again.”
Not only was the thought of starting over daunting, but Zane faced a major hurdle as he began chemotherapy – his cancer was not responding to the treatment. He had refractory ALL. Zane and his family were desperate for another treatment option.
About 2,000 miles away in Seattle, Wash., they would find that other option. But first, they would learn about it in the most unlikely place: a doughnut shop.
Soon after Zane relapsed, Paul and his family went to the local doughnut shop to satisfy a sweet tooth and enjoy the afternoon together. By chance, they ran into acquaintances who had heard about Zane’s situation. Paul said they approached him and mentioned they had recently seen a documentary about immunotherapy, the promising treatment that inspired Strong Against Cancer. They advised him to look into it.
“At the time, I just said ‘thank you’ not knowing what to expect, but after researching it, it seemed promising,” said Paul. “We found a trial at Seattle Children’s and knew it was our last hope. I called and left a message with Dr. Rebecca Gardner and she literally called back in 30 minutes. A month later we traveled to Seattle to start treatment.”
Five weeks after the start of the therapy, Zane and his family received the news they had been hoping for. “They told me I had no cancer cells at all – zero percent – and that’s awesome!” said Zane.
“It’s an amazing experience to be a part of a Phase 1 trial that has the potential to help so many people,” said Zane. “I like to call myself the ‘T-cell explorer,’ and I want to do anything I can to help other kids like me get this treatment.”