Asante cancer treatment means one little superhero fights on

A new and aggressive targeted therapy put his rare lymphoma into remission.

A new and aggressive targeted therapy put his rare lymphoma into remission.

After five months of aggressive chemotherapy treatment at Asante Rogue Regional for a rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, one little superhero lives to fight another day.

Xavi Bautista, 7, son of Viridiana Avila and Alvaro Bautista of Central Point, loves to play games and tell stories. And he loves Spider-Man. On his fifth birthday, he was Spider-Man. At least once a week since, he dons his suit and stands on his balcony to keep watch over the neighborhood. He’s even experimented with making his own web.

But last January, Spidey was in trouble. His mom noticed a lump near his clavicle that appeared overnight, and Xavi didn’t feel well. His pediatrician referred him to Asante, where he was diagnosed with a peripheral T-cell lymphoma, or PTCL. This particular form of PTCL is so rare in children and teens that only a few are diagnosed with it in the U.S. every year.

“It was really scary at first,” Avila says. “It was one of those moments you just freeze and don’t know what to think. The survival rate was not what we wanted to hear.”

Xavi’s oncologist, Michael Absalon, MD, was aware that it was difficult to cure this type of PTCL in adults with standard chemotherapy, but they did better when their therapy included a new drug called brentuximab vedotin (Bv). A recent clinical study by the Children’s Oncology Group showed that Bv could safely be added to a very aggressive chemotherapy regimen that showed success in European children who had a slightly different kind of lymphoma. Dr. Absalon and his partner, Ellen Plummer, MD, thought using this aggressive regimen with Bv offered the best chances of success for Xavi.

“We don’t do things alone in this field,” Absalon says. “I have a group of colleagues whom I would consider experts who are scattered across this country. This recommendation was put before them and they agreed with using this as our first-line therapy.”

Each treatment took five-and-a-half days in the hospital and was repeated every third week, for 18 weeks.

“Before deciding on this regimen and offering it to him and his family, we met with nurses here to make sure they were comfortable giving this chemotherapy,” Absalon says. It’s complicated and must be monitored closely to avoid serious side effects. “Our nurses rose to the challenge and did great.”

Without Asante’s pediatric oncology program, Xavi would’ve had to receive his treatments in Portland.

Treatment brings good news

Xavi persevered, suffering surprisingly few side effects except for losing the hair he dyed red and blue when his treatment began.

“We were very fortunate that through the whole process, Xavi maintained a good attitude. He’s been very brave, very positive,” Avila says, adding Xavi had lots of support from his loving family and from Asante.

“The whole team has been amazing. They’ve always listened to us and what Xavi’s needs were. They let us make our own decisions and gave us the information we needed. Today he is officially in remission.”

Xavi’s last day of treatment at Asante was July 1 and it came with a surprise: a visit from his superhero.

Spider-Man (aka Cody Walker, husband of nurse Megan Walker) gave Xavi a special glove and his favorite crime-stopping device — a gun that shoots silly string. “How about I leave this with you?” he told Xavi. “Because I’ve heard you’ve been super brave and a super good boy.”

It didn’t take long before Xavi put his crime-fighting silly string to use — on his mom and two of his treatment team, child life specialist Hannah Miller and nurse Tabitha Cristancho.

Xavi will be keeping the neighborhood safe for years to come.

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Asante Walk for Hope

Celebrate with cancer survivors at this year’s Walk for Hope, scheduled for Oct. 5 at the Heimann Cancer Center in Medford. Register to walk or volunteer by Sept. 20 to receive a free T-shirt.