(CBSDFW.COM) – Rhabdomyosarcoma. It’s a big name for a cancer that impacts young children. An eight-year-old boy, confronted with that diagnosis, bravely fought this disease while never giving up.
His message: “Don’t get discouraged.”
Now a 14-year-old, he’s a normal teenager who loves gadgets and sports, but his life has been anything but normal.
At only eight years old, Caleb Lynn was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare pediatric cancer that impacts muscle tissue. A bump developed near his right cheek after a fall at a football game.
“Initially it was the size of a lemon,” he said. But then the bump kept growing.
Caleb’s family had the bump tested. They got the results no one ever wants to hear.
“It was a cancerous tumor,” said Caleb’s mother, Antwanette.
However, the family didn’t let the news deter them from winning the life-changing fight. They tackled the tough diagnosis as a team.
Rather than getting discouraged by the cancer diagnosis, Caleb said, “Let’s go ahead and do this and get it over with.” It was the mindset of a brave 8-year-old that lessened the toll on the family.
The treatment included 46 weeks of chemotherapy and 25 days of radiation.
“I knew my baby was really sick,” said Antwanette Lynn. “He lost a lot of weight. He was very frail.”
Although the treatment was working, the fight was far from over.
“April of last year, they found a lump in his ear. Same side, same area,” his mother said.
Caleb’s toughest opponent returned, and, this time, he needed surgery. But his mindset never changed.
“I was thinking kind of the same thing. We have to get this over with. Faster. I wanted to go back to school so bad,” said Caleb.
He soldiered on through a 16-hour surgery that included the cancer removal and reconstructive surgery on his face.
Today, Caleb is cancer-free.
The family looks back on the ordeal as a test of their faith, and pulling through it all, he has a message for other children fighting the same opponent.
“Don’t get discouraged. Don’t get down because if you start getting down on yourself, that leads to stress and that doesn’t help,” said Caleb.
As of now, the only known treatments for Caleb’s type of muscle cancer are chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. However, those options don’t cure all muscle cancer.
Researchers are looking into alternative treatments in the most unlikely of places.
At UT Southwestern Medical Center, their fish tank isn’t just for show. The fish at Amatruda Lab are being used for cancer research.
Dr. James Amatruda and a team of researchers are breeding thousands of tropical fish to better understand childhood cancer.
The zebrafish, named for their black and white stripes, provide a window into how Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, a very aggressive type of muscle cancer, develops in a child’s body.
“Taking that human gene and putting it in DNA of fish, the fish develops the same cancer,” said Dr. Amatruda
Dr. Genevieve Kendall helped develop the zebrafish model that allows the team to study how tumors form and grow.
“They look very different from us, but 80 percent of disease in humans have a counterpart in zebrafish,” said Dr. Kendall.
Some of the tumors in the fish are visible to the naked eye while others require a blue light to see.
The doctors have also discovered that two specific genes working together can cause more aggressive cancers — the kind that take an even bigger toll on little bodies.
“Children could need amputation or other surgery,” said Dr. Amatruda “When the cancer spreads or metastasizes, it’s a very, very tough problem and, in many cases, we cannot cure those children with our current treatments.”
These doctors are not only growing tumors in a fish tank, but they are also hoping to test drugs that will directly target or eradicate the cancer by adding them directly into the water.
For Dr. Amatruda, the cancer research is personal.
“We worry a lot about children we can’t save,” said Dr. Amatruda.
He splits his time between the lab and Children’s Medical Center Dallas, where he cares for the kids fighting cancer. Those brave children and their families are an inspiration for the research being done.
“It’s always the spur to come back into the lab and work much, much harder,” said Dr. Amatruda.
CBS 11 is “Pulling Together” to fight childhood cancer by dividing into teams for a friendly tug-of-war. Team Dallas and Team Fort Worth are raising donations for the Children’s Cancer Fund.
Join CBS 11 on Saturday, August 11 at Lynn Creek Park in Grand Prairie to pull together for child cancer patients.