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These days, 10-year-old Timothy Hennessey can be defined in many ways: tennis player, baseball player, public speaker and Irish fiddler to name just a few. Last June, he was able to add one more to that list: long-term cancer survivor. Timothy is now among a growing group of people who are living full lives after battling and beating childhood cancer.
Timothy was 3 when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. As often happens, his symptoms escalated from minor to very major in just a matter of days. From having tenderness in his chest one Wednesday to being in full-blown chemotherapy the following Wednesday, Timothy and his family’s lives changed quickly.
At the time of his diagnosis, says his mother Mary, Timothy’s younger brother had been suffering from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), an illness that causes infection of the lungs and breathing passages. Mary assumed the tenderness in Timothy’s chest was related. “We just thought he caught RSV from his brother,” she recalls. By Friday, family members noticed a large golf ball-sized lymph node behind Timothy’s ear. “The doctors believed this was the end of the virus,” says Mary. “They were very reassuring.”
But more problems persisted. After a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo on Sunday, Timothy had a low-grade fever and his stomach was distended. The fever persisted into Monday, so Mary took Timothy, along with three of his siblings, to the doctor. She knew something was very wrong when the doctor told her to send the siblings into the waiting room. To her shock, Mary was told Timothy either had a viral suppression or leukemia. She took Timothy immediately to Cincinnati Children’s, where he was taken into clinic. By Tuesday, blood tests revealed the worst: Timothy had ALL.
By Wednesday, chemotherapy had begun, with the first round lasting around 10 days. After the initial round and another two-day infusion following that, Timothy returned home to find that all four of his brothers had shaved their heads to show him their support.
For Timothy, the last five years have meant spending a lot of time at Cincinnati Children’s. Through intense chemotherapy, cranial radiation therapy, more maintenance chemotherapy and even three surgeries for kidney stones, he endured a long and difficult road to recovery. He has also had nagging and ongoing asthma problems that started shortly after his cancer diagnosis. Last June, though, Timothy reached his most significant milestone: he was officially five years in remission and therefore considered a cancer survivor.
Now cancer-free, Timothy is not about to let anything slow him down. He is an avid baseball and tennis player and is involved with the Cincinnati Recreation Committee’s National Junior Tennis League (NJTL), which is funded by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). He is also part of a Cincinnati Children’s program called Champions for Children and frequently speaks to donors to tell his story.
As if those activities weren’t enough, Mary says Timothy is also an accomplished Irish fiddle player. “He has performed at the Cincinnati Museum Center and at many of the Celtic festivals around the area,” says Mary.
Ten-year-old Timothy Hennessey, one of nine children, didn’t let cancer stop him from being an active kid. Here he concentrates on playing the Irish fiddle, one of his many extracurricular interests.
Cancer, though, is not a disease that you can ever put completely behind you. Issues crop up ranging from a person’s long-term health to more practical matters like health insurance. For the past 20 years, Cincinnati Children’s has sought to help the growing legions of childhood cancer survivors work through these issues and more through the long-term survivor program known as the Association of Tennis Professionals 5+ Cancer Survivor Center.
For Mary, Timothy’s involvement with the clinic has been invaluable. Timothy goes yearly to the clinic for a checkup and cardiac workup. He is also closely monitored for brain tumors and growth problems, both of which are among the potential long-term side effects of radiation and chemotherapy.
Because cranial radiation can cause learning disabilities in some kids, Timothy has undergone educational testing to establish a baseline that can be monitored for changes in the years to come.
Having a child who has survived cancer – even one as healthy and active as Timothy – can be troubling at times. “You just don’t know what to expect sometimes,” says Mary. “You find yourself wondering, ‘is this something I need to worry about?’” The long-term clinic helps her deal with these fears. “It’s nice to have someone there to hold my hand.”
Timothy Hennessey is an avid tennis player, as well as a cancer survivor, now followed by the Association of Tennis Professionals 5+ Cancer Survivor Center at Cincinnati Children’s, which benefits from proceeds raised during the annual Western & Southern Financial Group Masters held each August in Cincinnati.
If you have had an experience with the Cancer & Blood Diseases Institute, we invite you to share your story.
Ten-year-old Timothy Hennessey didn’t let cancer stop him from being an active kid.
The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) 5+ Cancer Survivor Center provides specialized medical care and psychosocial support to childhood cancer survivors — continuously and without interruption through adulthood.
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