Denver family thankful for THON

By on February 25, 2015


Michael is shown attending his first THON with his dancers in 2004.

Michael is shown attending his first THON with his dancers in 2004.

The Palm family of Denver knows how one word can change your life forever ; cancer. However, they also know some good can come from a bad experience too ; Penn State’s THON.
“Our family consists of John, Barb, Kelsey, 23, Erin, 19, and Michael, 17,” said Barb Palm. “Michael is our Four Diamonds Child.”
Barb said in August of 2003, at age six, Michael was diagnosed with A.L.L. This is short for acute lymphoblastic leukemia; the most common kind of leukemia for children to get. She said doctors still do not know what causes it.
“It was a very emotional time; hearing the doctor say that our six-year-old little boy has cancer,” she said. “Our world was turned upside down. But Michael was so brave…rarely complained about anything. He was and still is our hero.”
“THON and all of the wonderful people we have met is the ‘good’ that came out of something bad that happened to our son and our family,” Barb said. “And for whatever reason we were given this journey, we are so thankful to have all of you fighting for all the kids and for us.”
Michael is now 17-years-old and a senior at Lancaster Catholic High School. He is a student ambassador, a member of student counsel, and a member of the MiniTHON committee. He is on the Lancaster Catholic track team and plays CYO basketball. His favorite pastime is playing on his Xbox and he works part-time at Dairy Queen. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Penn State are his two favorite teams.
And his dream of attending Penn State came true two weeks ago with his acceptance; he will be attending main campus this fall. Michael has been accepted into the College of Heath and Human Development and said he plans a career in sports medicine.
“Ever since going to the first THON (in 2004), Penn State is where I wanted to be,” he said.
Summer plans for Michael also include Penn State.
“I will be going to PSU as part of their Leap Program for incoming freshman,” he said. “That’s their summer program that starts June 28 and I will be taking two classes.”
Michael continues to support the event that has become so important to him.
Michael said this year’s THON “was great.”
He said his older sister, Kelsey, flew in from Washington to surprise him, and then they went to THON to surprise their middle sister, Erin.
“We had seven dancers with us,” he said. “It was a good, overall, experience.”
Michael said having cancer has definitely impacted his life.
“It’s certainly affected where I wanted to go to college,” he said. “That’s the biggest impact I believe.”
Michael said he heard about the recent comments made by ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann evidently calling Penn State’s students “pitiful.”
Students raised $13,026,653 this year.
“That definitely was hurtful to hear,” he said. “What he had to say was uncalled for. What the students do is just great. They do it for kids they never meet and $13 million is just incredible.”
“I encourage people to donate and spread the word,” he said.
Michael hopes telling his story encourages others to donate.
Barb said it all started one Thursday evening when Michael complained that his neck hurt.
“I thought he had a sore throat,” she said. “We took him to the doctor, but they found no infection; just enlarged glands.”
They were sent home with a strong antibiotic and told to return first thing the next morning. They returned and the doctor said the medicine didn’t work and his glands were even larger. She said he would have to be admitted to the hospital for blood work.
“To look at him, there was nothing visibly wrong; he had no other symptoms of any illness,” Barb said. “We had no idea that what looked to us to be a normal little boy was about to be riddled with needles and tubes in just a matter of a few hours.”
That Friday morning, Michael was admitted to a local hospital where they ran a battery of tests that did not reveal much. Saturday afternoon an appointment was made at Hershey for Monday just as a ‘precaution.’
“About an hour later, the doctor and the nurse came to me and told me they thought he had leukemia,” Barb said. “I couldn’t speak. I was probably in shock. I was by myself with Michael and had to keep my composure.”
Barb said the nurse had to call her husband and ask him to come to the hospital because they needed to talk to him and told him that his wife was unable to speak to him. John tells the story noting it was the longest 10 minute drive of his life.
“We were informed that he had to be moved from our local hospital to keep his immune system safe from germs,” Barb said. “Hershey did not have room for us so that meant we had to go to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).”
Barb said Michael was excited to learn he would get to ride in an ambulance to Philly; however, they were not, knowing/not knowing what they were about to begin.
“The girls were 12 and 8 at the time, so we had to make arrangements for them to be taken care of while we were in Philly,” she said. “It was quite a scramble to manage a lot of details in a matter of just a few hours before leaving for Philly.”
Those first few days were grueling, Barb said. Test after test, learning to swallow pills, and meeting with the doctors to discuss the treatment plan.
“On top of that, we were dealing with our insurance company, who wanted us out of CHOP because they were ‘not in our network.’” Barb said. “Sometimes I look back and wonder how we managed to get through it all, but we did.”
They discussed the treatment plan with the doctors at CHOP and they encouraged them to transfer to Hershey. They assured them the protocol for treatment was the same and for the amount of time they would be spending there, it would be a lot closer for them.
“After careful consideration, we decided to transfer and met with the doctors at Hershey, who were all so wonderful,” Barb said. “Michael’s doctor was Dr. Comito. She is the most fabulous person and took such great care of Michael.”
And that is where the family heard about the Four Diamonds Fund and THON. It all sounded too good to be true but they quickly found out that they were not seeing any bills from his treatment, nothing.
“Our first THON was so overwhelming &tstr; we couldn’t even begin to describe it to people,” she said. “To know that all those college kids &tstr; young men and women &tstr; were standing for us &tstr; people we didn’t even know; that was pretty awesome!“
Michael is doing well. After nine months of weekly hospital visits for chemo, and two and a half years of monthly visits for chemo, in addition to daily chemo pills at home, he is now at the stage where he only needs to go once a year for a checkup and blood work. His last chemo treatment was Oct. 13, 2006.
This is a day we celebrate each year,” Barb said. “He is considered to be cancer free and his outlook for the future is promising with a cure rate of 80-90 percent. Michael has now been transferred to the new ‘Survivor Clinic,’ where he will be seen for the next two years.”
Barb said they tried to keep life as normal as possible during that time for him and their two daughters.
“He was pretty much a normal 6-year-old boy. Just a boy who must make trips to the hospital,” she said. “We are very thankful that he is doing so well.”
The family is thankful to everyone who participates in THON.
“We are also thankful for all of you who are so dedicated to fighting childhood cancer,” Barb said. “We know how busy all of you are with your studies and it really means a lot to know you are helping to fight the battle with us. No child should have to go through what they do.”


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