- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) - Cael Wolfe, age 9, recently got to meet people who have helped him in his cancer journey.

It wasn’t the doctors, nurses, teachers or even family members. Not this time.

It was the cast of Chicago Fire.

Come again?

Shortly after the Bloomington boy began his battle with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2014, he found relief in watching the television show Chicago Fire. He and his family soon were hooked. Cael was watching episodes on DVD during car rides back and forth to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and to its Midwest Affiliate in Peoria as well as back home.

“I like the show,” Cael said. “I like the action. I like the firefighters. They are making it real.”

It became more real to Cael and his parents, Bryan and Jamie, on Nov. 4 when they spent four hours on the set of Chicago Fire as part of the Nov. 22 episode was being filmed at the fire station at 1360 S. Blue Island Ave., Chicago.

In a wish granted by the Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation, Cael met every cast member of one of television’s hotter shows. He put headphones on so he could hear dialogue as he watched the episode being filmed. He sat in a fire truck and in the director’s chair.

“And I got to sit in the chief’s car while they were filming,” an excited Cael said. Actor Eamonn Walker, who portrays Chief Wallace Boden, invited Cael to sit in the passenger seat of “the chief’s car” while a scene was being filmed.

“Cael was in the passenger seat but they couldn’t show him,” Jamie said.

“It was cool because no one gets to do that,” Cael said.

“They were all so nice,” Jamie said. “It was great to watch him having so much fun. For one day, he didn’t have to worry about cancer or chemo.

“We got to meet the people in the show that helped him to feel better,” Jamie explained.

Cael was 6½ in July 2014 when he couldn’t shake a low-grade fever and pain in both thighs. On July 24, 2014 - the day before Cael, his parents and older brother Gage were to leave on vacation - his parents decided to take Cael to his pediatrician.

The next day, the car was packed and the family was ready to leave for vacation when the pediatrician called and told Bryan that he and Jamie needed to take Cael to the St. Jude Midwest Affiliate in Peoria immediately.

“He said ‘It looks like leukemia,’” Bryan recalled.

“I told Cael we needed to go to Peoria to run some tests,” Jamie said.

“He was brave from Day One,” his father said. “He was like ‘OK, let’s go.’”

Gage was dropped off at friends who the Wolfes know from his PONY baseball team, the Twin City Inferno. Gage would be spending much of the next several months with members of their “baseball family” or with his grandparents at home.

At Peoria, doctors confirmed that Cael had ALL, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow in which the bone marrow makes too many immature white blood cells. As a result, those cells have trouble fighting off infection and, as those cells multiply, there is less room for healthy cells, leading to infection, anemia and bleeding.

“They don’t know the cause,” said Bryan, 44.

“I was in shock,” said Jamie, 46. “I was looking at him (Cael) and thinking ‘How can this be?’ It was our worst nightmare.”

“You just cry a lot,” Bryan said. “Your emotions are so up and down.”

“They gave him a blood transfusion and, the next day, we went to St. Jude in Memphis,” Jamie said. “There was a whole group of doctors waiting for us. We signed all these consents” for treatment and research. “It was overwhelming.”

“It was so much, so fast,” Bryan said. “We were in survival mode. But we wanted to do whatever we needed to do to save our son.”

“It was scary,” Cael admitted.

An opening was created in Cael’s chest for a variety of medicines - including chemotherapy.

In mid-August 2014, Bryan - a physical education teacher at Oakland and Bent elementary schools - returned home to get ready for another school year and to help Gage return to school. Cael and Jamie - a third-grade teacher at Washington Elementary - remained at St. Jude in Memphis.

Cael developed side pain and a rash. On Aug. 21, his blood pressure bottomed out and his organs began to shut down.

He was rushed to the intensive care unit, where it was determined that he had a severe case of pancreatitis - an inflammation of the pancreas - as a reaction to one of the chemotherapy drugs.

Bryan returned to Memphis.

“For three or four days, it was touch and go,” he said. “It was horrible.”

“I couldn’t eat or drink for seven days,” Cael recalled. “It hurt when people touched me.”

“It’s awful to see your child like that,” Jamie said. “His body was swollen.” He took nourishment through an IV.

“He was bedridden for over a month,” Bryan recalled. “He lost all his muscle tone. He lost his ability to walk.”

As Cael battled for his life, Gage was back in Bloomington, trying to concentrate on his school work.

“I don’t really know how I did it,” said Gage, now 13.

“We all did it one day at a time - sometimes, one hour at a time,” his mother said.

Slowly, the treatments for pancreatitis and leukemia worked. Cael was allowed to return home in November 2014 and began 120 weeks of ALL maintenance treatments.

For several months, a teacher came to his home and in April 2015, he returned to school.

Tutoring during summer 2015 helped to ensure that Cael was ready for second grade.

Maintenance phase means that Cael takes medicine daily - including chemotherapy pills and antibiotics - in addition to trying to not get sick.

“It controls your life,” Bryan said. “He’s not supposed to be around anyone who is sick. So, if someone in the family is sick, we can’t go to the family get-together. His teacher sanitizes his classroom.”

At home, the Wolfes pulled up carpeting and purchased a new furnace with a high-efficiency particulate air filter.

Cael is in school 4½ days a week. Each Friday, he goes to Peoria for a blood draw and exam.

“They are looking at his ability to fight off infection and are making sure the medicine is doing what it’s supposed to do,” Bryan said. “Basically, he gets a physical every week.”

Every three months, he returns to Memphis for a spinal tap to make sure leukemia cells are no longer present.

“I’m doing way better,” Cael said. His treatments are scheduled to end in March.

“The journey has been physically and emotionally draining,” Jamie said.

That’s one reason why the day spent with the cast and crew of Chicago Fire meant so much to Cael and his family.

“It was a happy day for everyone involved,” Jamie said.

“I want to be a cop or a doctor or a firefighter because I like action,” said Cael, pointing to a helmet that the Bloomington Fire Department gave him. “I always want to be busy.”

“We know kids (with cancer) who are no longer with us, but, other than the pancreatitis, Cael has done well,” his father said. “His prognosis is good.”

Bryan said there are two messages to his son’s story.

“Don’t take anything for granted. And little acts of kindness mean so much.”

Like spending time with a child.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/2gvTReU

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com


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