• James Lansing

    Accepting a difficult situation

    james-lansingJames Lansing, 10, who enjoys competition of the body (ice hockey) and mind (chess), travels every week from Portsmouth, R.I., to a location in Boston where he tackles his homework, plays computer games, reads, watches TV, and meets other kids his age.

    That place is Dana-Farber's Jimmy Fund Clinic, where James receives chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma. He claims that having cancer doesn't make much of a difference in his life. "I still do the same things, only I have a little less energy," the fifth-grader says. "And, my friends are cool with it." An "A" student, he keeps up with his school work while missing one or two days a week for his trips to Boston with his mother.

    The ease with which James accepts a difficult situation is a credit to his parents, Michele Lansing, MD, and Navy Captain Sandy Lansing, who have educated him about his illness and care and included him in decision making. His mother is his chief companion and champion, joined whenever possible by her husband and 11-year-old daughter, Laura, who brings along her Nancy Drew mystery books. The family also includes 20-year-old Christopher, a college student.

    James with his oncologist, Shelly BernsteinJames with his oncologist, Shelly Bernstein 

    James's diagnosis evolved slowly, beginning with a suspicious bump on his scalp last October, just above his neck. The family was stationed in Hawaii at the time, explains Michele Lansing, a physician who is currently not working outside the home. "The doctor at our naval clinic thought it might have been a cyst or reactive lymph node," she recalls.

    But, once a sample was sent off to a lab for analysis, the results came back Hodgkin's. In a twist of fate, the news of James's cancer arrived on the first anniversary of Lansing's mother's death from metastatic breast cancer at age 62. She reassured her son that the two cases were very different. "Grandma had a Stage 4 cancer and mine is a Stage 2A," he explains with confidence.

    During the evolution of James's cancer diagnosis, the family was preparing to move to its next naval assignment: Portsmouth, RI. James's hockey coach recommended Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Care (DF/CHCC), and at last they arrived for a consultation. At Boston Children's Hospital, James underwent several biopsies and had a catheter (Port-A-Cath, known as a "port") installed in his chest to avoid the many needle pricks chemotherapy would require.

    Shelly Bernstein, MD, PhD, his oncologist in the Jimmy Fund Clinic, explains that Hodgkin's lymphoma is more common in teens and young adults than in children James's age, but overall the cure rate is excellent: 90 percent. "Also, today's treatments have fewer long-term effects than did Hodgkin's treatments in the past," Bernstein adds.

    The Lansings have several tips to offer other pediatric patients and families, including a reflection from Laura on having a brother with cancer. "It's sort of weird," she says. "At first my friend asked if he had a bad haircut. But I say that even though he looks different on the outside, on the inside he's just the same."

    — Christine Cleary
    christine_cleary@dfci.harvard.edu 

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