Story, Patient, Research and Innovation

Jalen Dreams of a Future Without Chemo

September 10, 2019

As a curious kid who’s been fighting leukemia for more than a year, Jalen has learned a lot about what it means to be sick – and what it takes to heal.

He’s only 9 years old, but Jalen can already rattle off complicated medical terms and drug names that most children have never even heard of. 

“Dexamethasone,” he says. “That’s the steroid drug that I take before chemo. And then there’s Mercaptopurine, the medicine that stops the cancer cells from growing in my body.”

As a curious kid who’s been fighting leukemia for more than a year, Jalen has learned a lot about what it means to be sick – and what it takes to heal.

“Jalen always asks a lot of questions about what medications he has to take and why,” says his mom, Karen. “I love that his nurses and doctors always talk to him directly and explain everything to him.”

A Shocking Diagnosis

Jalen was in second grade when he first started feeling ill. His parents figured he was just fighting a virus, but as he got progressively worse, they decided to further investigate his symptoms.

“He was having a hard time walking,” says Karen. “And he had a lymph node on his shoulder that was the size of a plum,” adds Jalen’s dad, Chad. 

Jalen’s parents took him to urgent care, where doctors ran blood tests. His parents expected their son to be diagnosed with mono. Instead, they were devastated to learn that Jalen had leukemia.

“We told Jalen it was serious but that we were going to get through this as a family,” says Chad. 

Easing the Pain

Jalen immediately started chemotherapy at Children’s Colorado on the Anschutz Medical Campus, where he stayed for eight days.

Jalen says his doctors and nurses went above and beyond to make his painful treatments as easy as possible. For example, when one of his drugs made him violently ill, his caregivers worked together to brainstorm alternatives that wouldn’t make him sick. When Jalen shared that he hated the smell of his oxygen masks, his nurses added an orange scent to make it bearable.

“They treat me like I’m the only patient they have,” says Jalen.

A team of child life specialists from Children’s Colorado even gave a presentation to Jalen’s classmates to help explain his diagnosis.

“There were some things that were hard to talk about with my friends,” says Jalen. “After the child life specialists came to my school, it made it a lot easier to share about what I’m going through.”

Seeking New Cures

Today, Jalen’s cancer is in remission, but his treatment regimen still requires him to receive chemotherapy every 10 days. His infusions leave him exhausted and nauseous. Most of the time he can only go to school for half the day.

“I wish there was an easier cure,” says Jalen.

That desire inspired Jalen to become a Patient Ambassador for Children’s Colorado. Today, he’s raising money for the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Colorado in hopes that doctors can find new treatments that don’t require the painful side effects of chemotherapy.

Physician-scientists are already making tremendous strides through research. Hundreds of clinical trials are currently underway at Children’s Colorado, and a promising new treatment approach known as immunotherapy has shown success in harnessing the body’s own immune system to kill cancer cells. With the support of donors – and generous kids like Jalen – a chemo-free future could someday be a reality.

In the meantime, Jalen continues his brave fight. He’s a self-described master Lego® builder, and he dreams of someday becoming the President of the United States.

Jalen encourages other children fighting cancer to stay brave. “It’s going to be okay,” he says.