5-year-old Gage Dole faces a bone marrow transplant for cancer; his family hopes the community can help
On the first day of kindergarten in September, Lauren Dole watched as her son Gage marched through the school's front doors.
While the other moms fretted over letting their babies go into the unknown, Lauren felt nothing but pure joy at the miracle of watching her son live normally among people his own age.
'We weren't even sure he was going to be there,' she said.
Lauren and her husband, Trux, approach each milestone of their son's life differently than most parents. Now, they face their most daunting hurdle to date.
Two years ago, after Gage complained about severe pain in his back and stomach after a fall, doctors found a tumor that had partially grown into his spine.
The Doles immediately relocated to Boston, where Gage underwent a grueling six weeks of chemotherapy to diminish the apricot-sized growth.
After three months, they returned home to Lake Oswego a happy family.
With his central IV line - which they named 'buddy' - taken out, Gage liked to take off his shirt to feel the breeze on his chest and sleep facedown on his bed to rub against the sheets.
By April, he was in remission, gained back his strength and his blond hair. By summer, the Doles were camping and spending days at the beach. By fall, Gage was thriving at Hallinan Elementary School.
Then, Lauren and Trux noticed several bruises on Gage's body that wouldn't go away. Further testing showed that treatment for Gage's Ewing's sarcoma had set off acute myelogenous leukemia, a fast-growing and the most common cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Gage, now 5, will need a bone marrow transplant, a procedure that comes with a number of serious risks but is the only way to fight off his form of AML.
'It makes the chemo experience look like a walk in the park,' Trux said. 'It'll all but kill him.'
For the Doles, it's a 100-day ordeal that means living their nightmare all over again, and putting their young son through treatments that leave him sick, achy and miserable.
There is a sense of guilt associated with knowing what's in store for Gage, they said.
'The feeling is of terrible sorrow knowing you're going to have to subject him to this experience as you see him enjoying life at this moment,' Trux said. 'The fear is very real that this could be his last Halloween … The worst thing a person can do is lose a child.'
Lauren explained to Gage that bone marrow is 'like soil' and doctors needed to take out the 'old soil' and put in 'new soil' for his 'garden' to be healthy and grow.
'He said, 'I feel angry,' and I said, 'It's OK to be angry,'' said Lauren, who cried for days at the news but has numbly moved into researching AML.
If there are complications with the bone marrow, treatment can extend up to nine months. Then there's a chance for the AML to come back. Trux estimated his son's survival at about 50 percent, but Gage won't be considered 'cured' until he's free of cancer for five years.
Today, Gage is a talkative, rambunctious kid with bright brown eyes who's just as happy to jump on a bed as to watch superhero DVDs.
He often strikes up conversations with strangers, including a couple he joined at a table at a local restaurant when his parents weren't watching. It doesn't take much to make him happy.
'When you see him on the other side of it, you realize how miserable he was feeling,' Trux said. 'He just has … something.'
The Doles plan to take Gage to Oregon Health and Science University within the week to begin chemotherapy to bring his body back into remission and prepare it for the transplant, which will take place once a matching donor is found.Trux, the director of business development at Provaliant Healthcare, will then move his family to Seattle, where Gage will undergo the transplant at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.
Aside from Gage's health, his biggest worry is finding temporary housing in Seattle. He's hoping a kind stranger will give his family free access to an apartment or house where they can stay.
'The hardest thing was saying 'Yes, we need help,'' Lauren said. 'Now, we can say it.'
Members of Lake Grove Presbyterian Church and the Hallinan community overwhelmed the Doles with meals, money and wishes the first time Gage was hospitalized.
Many people have voiced their desire to rally for the Dole's cause again, including a number of local businesses, who will hold a 'Gage's Gang Community Effort Drive' on Nov. 11. A percentage of daily sales will go toward helping the Dole family.
'We moved (to Lake Oswego) because we were impressed with the sense of community,' Trux said. 'Our experiences have done nothing but reinforce that.'
Additionally, family friend Barbara Mount has organized a bone marrow drive on Sunday at Hallinan. The drive can only serve to deepen Gage's potential candidate pool, the Doles said.
Because neither Lauren nor Trux are a marrow match, both Doernbecher and OHSU are conducting their own national searches for a donor that fits Gage's genetic makeup.
Once the best match is found, the donor must voluntarily go through additional testing, preparation and marrow extraction.
'As a parent, it's so scary because you're relying on the commitment of that donor and we're moving into the holiday season,' Lauren said. 'It's a long, agonizing wait.'
For Lauren and Trux, the last two weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions that they're still trying to grasp.
Through doctor's visits and bad news, they've managed to stay strong for Gage, who knows he's sick again but would rather talk about toys than his battle with cancer.
To any outsider, Gage, an only child, looks healthy and carefree.
But Lauren and Trux, however, can see that Gage isn't quite himself. There are noticeable clues: Lingering bruises, lack of stamina when he's playing on the playground, a slightly higher degree of crankiness.
Still, he manages to giggle a lot.
'They live for the moment,' she said about kids Gage's age. 'The moment is their life. They deal with it as it comes.'
Her biggest wish is a simple one: For Gage to survive and become the astronaut he's always wanted to be.
'You can't even put it into words what it's like until you're in it,' she said. 'It's tough, but it's not hopeless.'
To read more about Gage Dole's story, go online to: www. caringbridge.org/visit/gage.