Six-year-old Brick, NJ, Boy Bravely Beats Leukemia   

Six-year-old Brick, NJ, Boy Bravely Beats Leukemia

Smiling six-year-old boy who beat cancer gives his doctor a high five.

After being diagnosed with leukemia in January 2022, Bruce Woodruff, 6, of Brick, New Jersey, just wants to get back to being a kid. He can’t wait until he can participate in gymnastics like his younger sister, something he has not been able to do while in treatment.

“He really doesn’t understand why he can’t do it,” says Bruce’s mom, Ginny.

But thanks to a dedicated care team and intensive chemotherapy strategy, he’ll soon be joining his sister on the gymnastics mats.

An Unexpected Diagnosis

Bruce was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Leukemia is the most common cancer in children and teens, and three out of four childhood leukemias are ALL. T-cell ALL is one subtype of ALL that is not as common and is more intensive than other subtypes. About 12% to 15% of pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia diagnoses are the T-cell subtype.

Around the holidays in 2021, Bruce’s dad, Richard, noticed that Bruce’s belly seemed to be getting bigger, but with all the Thanksgiving and Christmas treats, it didn’t seem concerning. But after the beginning of the new year, not only was his belly much bigger, he was tired all the time and had unexplainable bruises on his abdomen and small red dots, called petechiae, on his skin.

Ginny made an appointment with Bruce’s pediatrician, who ordered an ultrasound when he couldn’t feel Bruce’s abdominal organs by touch. The ultrasound showed an enlarged spleen, so a referral was made to see Brittany Parlow, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist.

When Bruce arrived at K. Hovnanian Children’s Hospital at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Dr. Parlow ordered blood work. “After they took his blood and Bruce was playing in the waiting area, five people walked into the room,” says Ginny.

Jessica Scerbo, M.D., chief of pediatric hematology oncology, told her Bruce had leukemia and they were going to take him downstairs to the pediatric ER immediately. “It’s one of those out-of-body experiences that you hear people talk about,” Ginny says. “I was like, ‘Could it be something else?’” The team assured her it could not. She called her husband but couldn’t find the words to tell him the stunning news.

“They felt like they were coming for a very different visit—perhaps a viral infection—or some other reason for his symptoms,” says Dr. Scerbo. “It’s not uncommon that parents don’t detect that there’s a more serious issue. The day-to-day changes are so subtle that the people who are closest to them don’t necessarily notice them, and acute lymphoblastic leukemia mimics many common diagnoses.”

A Rapid Treatment Response

Bruce was transported to Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center for 10 days of chemotherapy treatment. This initial intense treatment put his leukemia in remission. Following that initial treatment, he returned to K. Hovnanian for maintenance treatment consisting of IV chemotherapy given at the hospital and oral medication taken at home.

Although the first year of treatment was rough, the hospital’s child life specialists—and Bruce’s “magic” Finding Nemo blanket for comfort—“saved both of us,” Ginny says. Because his immune system was suppressed, he was treated for various infections. He did not like the mediport implanted in his chest or the medications he had to take at home.

This May will be Bruce’s final chemotherapy treatment, and then he’ll be in the hospital’s survivorship program, which offers post-treatment checkups for five years. His parents are both excited and nervous about the end of his treatment, but Bruce has his eye on the prize: “He asked, ‘I can go back to gymnastics when I’m done with this, right?’” says his mom. “I said, ‘Yes, you can.’”

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The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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