Eagle family overcomes son’s cancer | VailDaily.com

Eagle family overcomes son’s cancer

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Theo Stroomer/Vail DailyEamonn Rooney holds his son, Finn, 5 1/2, in their home in Eagle on Sunday. The elder Rooney will be shaving his head on St. Baldrick's Day this year to support his son, who was diagnosed with cancer when he was 17 months old and finished treatment 6 months ago.

EAGLE, Colorado ” Finn Rooney is a talkative, active 5-year-old with a head full of curly blonde hair, but the odd bump on his chest where a catheter is embedded under his skin is a telltale sign of his 3 1/2-year battle with leukemia.

Finn still receives injections through the catheter to boost his immune system, and he is still monitored by doctors, but life has pretty much returned to normal for Finn, his parents Eamonn and Natalie, and his 7-year-old brother, Declan.

Life changed for the Eagle family when Finn was diagnosed in 2004 with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer of bone-forming tissue such as the bone marrow.

There had been signs, Natalie Rooney said.

He cried because his bones constantly ached, he developed a protruding belly, and bruises appeared on his back as his blood platelets stopped functioning.

“In a few weeks he went from this really happy little kid to suddenly crying all the time,” Rooney said.

His parents knew something was very wrong when Finn did not stop bleeding after he fell and cut his lip. At a visit to the Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, doctors found his bone marrow was full of cancer ” he was only 17 months old.

Finn started chemotherapy within a day, and his parents clung to the hope that Finn’s cancer had an 85 percent survival rate.

His mother said she was in shock throughout Finn’s first round of chemotherapy, which he spent in the hospital.

“The nurse was showing me treatments for his mouth so that he wouldn’t get mouth sores from the chemo. That’s when I thought, ‘Oh my God, when we go home, this is not going away,'” she said.

The leukemia treatment lasted 3 1/2 years and included spinal taps, strong steroids and strong antibiotics when he came down with meningitis.

He became frail and lost all his curly hair, but dealt with the treatment very well, his mother said.

“He’s not scared of doctors or medicine because it’s all he’s ever known. The clinic became a second home to him,” Rooney said.

Wrapped up in Finn’s treatment, the Rooneys had limited contact with the outside world besides clinic visits.

His mother chronicled Finn’s treatment on a Web site and got encouragement and support from friends, family and other families of children with cancer.

“I lived to see those messages for Finn. Total strangers, friends of friends, would post or send a card. Our neighbors even cooked for us for the first nine months of Finn’s treatment,” she said.

Friends ran marathons and competed in sailboat races in honor of Finn, and cancer organizations offered their support.

His treatment ended last August, but the family still deals with the after-effects.

The drugs given in therapy can cause long-term heart damage, and the steroids he took can cause weakened bones, and hearing and vision problems.

Finn’s least favorite part of the monitoring process is the CT scans he must take regularly.

“I don’t like going through the donut hole,” he said of the scanning machine.

The experience has also changed his parents’ perspectives.

“As a parent your peace of mind is gone. My husband and I wonder if we’ll ever sleep at night with that feeling that all is right in the world? Maybe never,” his mother said.

The Rooneys moved to the valley last year, so many people do not know about Finn’s cancer, his mother said.

Pediatric cancer is less common in the valley than it was in Columbus, so people are usually shocked and surprised by the news.

“It’s just not on people’s radar,” his mother said. “It can be a big mystery to people if you haven’t had to deal with it. People feel awkward asking about it.”

The family is participating in St. Baldrick’s Day on Mar. 15, a fundraiser for pediatric cancer research where donors sponsor participants to shave their heads. Eamonn Rooney, Finn’s father, is going to get shaved this year ” after dying his hair green.

Events like St. Baldrick’s Day not only educate people, but associate a happy, but useful occasion with pediatric cancer, Rooney said.

Many people do not realize that there are specific treatments for cancer that are specific to children, said Cindy Pettit, the event’s organizer

“It’s been a huge success in previous years. People here are so generous and anxious to give back,” she said.

Rooney also encourages people to give blood. During the course of Finn’s treatment, he received 22 blood transfusions. Supplies tend to dwindle around holidays, when there are more car accidents, she said.

“I just think, during those times if people didn’t donate, would there have been blood for Finn?” she said.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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