By Ed Morrone
As a 6-year-old girl, Lexi Cable’s likes are pretty typical: pirates, superheroes and Paw Patrol.
Atypical is the fact that she’s been treated for cancer for half of her life.
Lexi was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer that affects cells in the immune system, in Feb. 2015. The disease starts in the lymphocytes, the early version of white blood cells in the bone marrow, and prevents normal, healthy blood cells from being made when leukemia cells grow fast and crowd the marrow. Children with B-cell ALL are more susceptible to infections, meaning Lexi often has to wear a protective mask with her environment meticulously monitored in order to prevent relapse.
Lexi and her mother, Christen, are guests of Nick’s House in Swarthmore as Lexi recovers from a bone marrow transplant she received in early May at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). The Cables, of Allentown, Pa., endured two years and three months of treatment in the Lehigh Valley following Lexi’s diagnosis in 2015. They thought they were in the clear after six months of clean blood work, but in Nov. 2017, doctors noticed some abnormalities and ordered a bone marrow biopsy.
Unfortunately, in early December, Lexi relapsed. She spent Christmas in the hospital during induction followed by months more of pre-treatment before finally receiving the bone marrow transplant on May 2. Staying north of an hour away from home presented lodging dilemmas, with the best options being Christen’s aunt’s futon and a room at the Sheraton, where Lexi would be more vulnerable to germs and infection. Christen was referred to Nick’s House by a social worker at CHOP and had moved in within days of Lexi’s discharge from the hospital.
“As soon as I found out there was availability, I said, ‘Sounds good, how soon can we get there?’” Christen said as Lexi played on the living room floor at Nick’s House. “We love it. People are very friendly and welcoming; even when we first arrived, everybody was offering to help unload the car.”
The sad reality of the Cables’ situation is that Lexi has dealt with being sick for so long that doctors offices, hospitals and getting poked for blood work have become the norm. When the family informed Lexi of her relapse, she reacted cheerily that she would be without hair for Christen to braid. Christen, a high school math teacher, and her husband, an electrical engineer, have been trying to keep their crazy situation as normal as possible for Lexi and her 4-year-old sister, Annie.
Despite appearing sick externally, Lexi’s attitude and demeanor doesn’t indicate that anything has ever been wrong. She is precocious, energetic and full of activity, like any other kid her age.
“I’d love to have even one-tenth of her energy,” Christen said. “This is not even her on a full tank, which is insane. For her, this is normal; it’s sad that it is, but it makes things easier to deal with.”
Now, Lexi’s parents and doctors will continue monitoring and watching her to prevent another relapse. Other than that, there’s no other further treatment to be offered. Gradually over the course of the next year, restrictions on where Lexi can go and what she can do should lessen. Familial support has been steadfast, and for that Christen is blessed.
On top of that, she’s grateful for the family she’s gained by proximity staying at Nick’s House. Though everyone is going through their own, unique battle, it’s also been nice for Christen and Lexi to be surrounded by like-minded, empathetic folks who can relate on a deeper, more personal level.
“It’s a camaraderie between other families going through the same thing,” Christen said. “It’s something everyone knows about but nobody understands until you’ve gone through it. Cancer sucks, but it puts you on an amazing journey where you meet some of the most incredible people. It builds a support network in which you can reach out to each other and talk each other through things and pick one another up when you’re down. There’s some kind of force behind everything, and it’s amazing the good that can come out of horrible situations.”
Lexi said her favorite part of her stay at Nick’s House were the games she’s been able to play, as well as the porch swing right outside the front door. Cancer may have robbed Lexi of her hair and part of what should be a carefree childhood, but it hasn’t sapped her spirit.
“She’s crawling around on the floor, playing … she’s off being her,” Christen said. “Through all of this, she’s remained her. Her imagination has remained strong. She’s Lexi the Superhero Pirate.”
The HEADstrong Foundation™ is a 501(c)3 committed to improving lives affected by cancer, founded by the late Nicholas “HEAD” Colleluori. The non-profit organization plays a vital role as a direct resource to families overcome by the hardships of cancer. HEADstrong provides a variety of services, which range from financial assistance to funding capital projects to peer mentorship and, most notably, HEADstrong operates Nick’s House™, a guest family home providing more than 2,555 nights of complimentary lodging and support to families displaced in the pursuit of life-saving cancer treatment. Today, Nick’s vision is being fulfilled through the relentless efforts of his family, athletes and supporters across the country uniting in the fight against cancer. For more information on the HEADstrong Foundation and how to donate, host a fundraiser or volunteer, please visit www.HEADstrong.org.