Declan’s determination: Beat cancer

5-year-old Vancouver boy who loves dinosaurs faces long odds to win fight against leukemia, lymphoma

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian Health Reporter



How to help

 Donations: Donations can be made through the American Childhood Cancer Organization,

 Registry: Join the Be the Match bone marrow donor registry:

 Facebook: For updates on Declan’s journey, follow the “Declan the Dinosaur” Facebook page,

 Fundraiser: Washougal Mayor Sean Guard is raising money for the Reagan family with an event called Dudes with Donations for Declan. Declan’s dad, Francis Reagan, is a Washougal police officer.

Guard is accepting donations to have his hair and beard shaved off. He’s challenging other mayors, elected officials, police chiefs and first responders to join the effort. To donate to Guard’s campaign, make a check out to “Reagan family” and mail it to Sean Guard, 3644 S St., Washougal WA 98671.

Local barbers will shave heads and faces at noon April 29 at the Washougal fire station, 1400 S. A St.

At just 4 years old, Declan Reagan endured 79 high doses of chemotherapy, two surgeries and five bone marrow punctures and received 40 blood-product transfusions.

That was just in the five months after the Vancouver boy was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

To celebrate his fifth birthday — which he shares with his twin brother, Adrian — Declan and his family partnered with the American Red Cross to host a blood drive. They collected 52 units of blood, repaying the organization for the donations Declan received.

The event, which took place on the boys’ birthday, March 28, also served another purpose. Officials from Be the Match were on hand to add people to the organization’s bone marrow donor registry.

Just six weeks earlier, the Reagans learned Declan’s cancer was back. Now the 5-year-old needs a lifesaving bone marrow transplant. To complicate matters, on Friday Declan was diagnosed with a second cancer that he’ll need to beat before he can receive the transplant.

Without a family member donor match, the Reagans turned to friends, co-workers and the public. Now they wait, hoping one of the 51 people who enrolled at the event will match Declan.

One in 430 people are a bone marrow match.

“Our goal, in the next year, is to get 430 people added to the registry,” said Lauren Reagan, Declan’s mom. “So then I know we’ve at least saved one person.”

“Hopefully,” she added, “it’ll be Declan.”

Remission and relapse

About a year ago, Reagan realized Declan was sleeping more than usual. She didn’t give it much thought, attributing the extra sleep to a growth spurt.

But one evening, after Reagan got home from work, she noticed Declan had small red dots covering his body. She took Declan to urgent care, then to an emergency room. Additional testing at Randall Children’s Hospital in Portland determined that Declan had acute myeloid leukemia.

AML is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. AML affects a group of cells, called myeloid cells, which normally develop into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, according to the Mayo Clinic.

AML is rare and is especially uncommon before the age of 45. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 21,400 cases of AML this year, most of which will be among adults.

Declan, Reagan learned, is one of just 20 kids in this area with AML. When he was diagnosed, the cancer was in 90 percent of his bone marrow, she said.

Declan spent six months in the hospital, where he underwent four rounds of chemotherapy. The treatment plan had a 75 percent success rate, Reagan said. He completed treatment on Sept. 29.

“We achieved remission,” Reagan said.

But Declan wasn’t in remission for long. On Feb. 17, the family learned Declan had relapsed. The bone marrow tests showed they had caught the cancer early; it was in only about 5 percent of his marrow.

But because he relapsed so quickly after treatment, Declan’s three- to five-year life expectancy is only about 30 percent.

“We’re taking that 30 percent and running with it,” Reagan said.

A bone marrow transplant could save Declan’s life. Neither Lauren Reagan nor Francis Reagan, Declan’s dad, are bone marrow matches. Adrian, Declan’s identical twin brother, isn’t a suitable match, either.

“They have the same DNA,” Lauren Reagan said. “So it would be like adding fuel to the fire.”

That’s why the family has turned to community events to find a donor. The leukemia is still only in about 5 to 10 percent of Declan’s blood, so the family thought it had some time before he would be readmitted to begin chemotherapy and full-body radiation to prepare for the transplant.

The second cancer diagnosis, however, means everything is up in the air. On Friday, Declan was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblast lymphoma, a form of blood cancer.

Over the next two weeks, Declan will undergo surgery to have a port placed and various tests and scans so doctors can determine a course of treatment.

Fighting the odds

After Declan’s relapse was discovered in February, the Reagans decided to let Declan have as much fun as possible before he resumed treatment.

The first time he lost his hair was traumatic for Declan. This time around, they took Declan to the store to let him pick out hair dye. He picked bright blue.

The family also celebrated the boys’ birthdays as they have every other year: with a grand adventure. At the bone marrow and blood drive event, the boys held the hands of donors getting poked by needles and ate cupcakes and other birthday sweets. Friends brought gifts for the boys — mainly dinosaurs. Declan’s love of dinosaurs earned him the nickname “Declan the dinosaur” during his hospital stay.

After the event, the family went out to dinner in Portland and went shopping at Finnegan’s Toys & Gifts, where Declan and Adrian each picked out the toy of their choice — more dinosaurs.

The fun times will continue until it’s time for Declan to be admitted to the hospital again for treatment, which, given the new diagnosis, will be sooner than originally expected.

“We’re in unchartered territory on how to treat two different types of cancer at the same time,” Reagan said.