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Our Familes / Family Stories

The Velez-Rivera Family

It’s very common for doctors to avoid the testing that can lead to a child’s cancer diagnosis. We’ve heard it again and again, and it’s always the parents that end up persisting until they are finally heard. Often this leads to a late diagnosis in childhood cancers, which can be devastating in some cases. For Dylan, as for many kids, it was unrelenting fevers, which were attributed to consecutive viral infections.

Months passed and his fevers kept returning, and at a family vacation to their home in Colombia, the doctor’s there determined Dylan was anemic and needed iron. His mom, Diana (?), still did not feel satisfied with this diagnosis, however. Her son ate well, foods rich in iron, so how could there not be something else wrong?

Back in the U.S., on iron supplements, Dylan, now 3 years old, was experiencing new symptoms including leg and stomach pain. It was now the fall of 2020 and most of the appointments were being held virtually. However, in early October Diana and dad, Edisson, noticed that Dylan had mouth sores and an enlarged lymph node behind his ear. Finally a doctor would see him in person, and this doctor listened. She ordered another blood test at which point it was determined that he was not just anemic, but that he had leukemia.

Dylan’s mom told us, “As a mother we have senses that are hard to explain. I always knew from the beginning that something wasn't right. But when the doctor told me about his leukemia It felt like a punch on my stomach, I couldn't breathe. Many times I had panic attacks at night and my mind was thinking a lot about the future and worst case scenarios.”

Treatment for leukemia is long and grueling. There are many times when Dylan would have to be admitted for long stays at the hospital. Dylan had seizures at the beginning of the treatment and he had MTX toxicity. Steroids greatly changed his personality. Although Dylan remained resilient through all of the most toxic chemotherapy treatments, it was extremely hard on Diana and Edisson and big brother, Bryan. They missed the sweet, happy little boy they knew from before his diagnosis.

One thing that helped the family was to shift their thinking to focus on the present moment instead of overthinking in the future. While that sounds like an easy task, we all know how hard it can be to shift our perspective permanently to stay positive. Meeting this family at our Positively Healing Retreat in 2022, we could see how far they had come—they all lit up with gratitude and optimism that week.

Dylan has been off treatment since December 2022. But he still struggles with emotional trauma of it all. He needs an IEP at school and is very nervous about new situations and leaving his mom. When we saw him this month at our Childhood Cancer Awareness Month party, he seemed like a content and well-adjusted kid—likely due to the work his parents have done to ease his anxieties.

Dylan has a big brother, Bryan, and younger sister, Emily, that was born soon after the retreat in 2022. Bryan learned to hold everything emotional inside, likely not to worry his mom too much. He focused on his soccer game and has become very successful playing for the minor league Revolution team. Often siblings of children with cancer feel like their emotional needs are not important, compared to their sister and brother’s physical needs. They grow up quickly and try not draw attention to themselves. Luckily, Bryan found a healthy outlet in his athletic abilities.

After all this, Dylan’s mom has such a great perspective and advice to other cancer parents,Be patient and positive. Advocate for your child's needs. Try not to overthink about the future, just live one day at a time.”


Be patient and positive. Advocate for your child's needs. Try not to overthink about the future, just live one day at a time.