In the last year and a half, Declan Reagan has been told he has cancer three times. In fighting those cancers, Declan has already hit the lifetime maximum for a class of chemotherapy drugs.
The Vancouver boy is only 5 years old.
“This kid is just resilient,” said Declan’s mom, Lauren Reagan.
Declan was first diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia when he was 4 years old. AML is a rare cancer of the bone marrow and blood, especially uncommon among those younger than 45. After six months in the hospital and four rounds of chemotherapy, Declan achieved remission in September 2016.
But in February, the Reagan family learned Declan’s cancer was back. As they waited to begin treatment, doctors made a devastating discovery: Declan had a second form of cancer. Just days after his fifth birthday, Declan was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoblast lymphoma, a type of blood cancer.
The Reagan family was searching for a bone marrow donor at the time they received the second diagnosis. Doctors believed a transplant could save Declan’s life.
The second diagnosis, however, meant the 5-year-old had to beat both cancers before he could undergo a transplant.
On April 20, Declan entered the hospital to begin chemotherapy. He was there for 40 days, but the chemo worked. It wiped out both cancers.
The Reagans found 16 potential bone marrow matches that were whittled down to five ideal matches. Two of the five agreed to donate and additional testing determined the best match: a 28-year-old woman from Great Britain. The family does not know anything more about the donor.
After four days of full-body radiation and another four days of chemotherapy, Declan underwent the transplant on July 11.
Lauren Reagan cried as the bag of blood cells was brought into her son’s hospital room and hooked up to his IV. The transplant took 3 1/2 hours.
“She’s giving him a chance at life,” Reagan said. “And I just think that’s the most amazing thing you can give a child, because Declan didn’t ask for this.”
Declan spent the following 30 days in isolation at the hospital. But now, about 60 days post-transplant, Declan’s body is producing his donor’s cells.
Declan’s immune system is still weakened, so he is limited in the amount of time and places he can be in public. While his twin brother, Adrian, started kindergarten this year, Declan is being home-schooled.
Soon Declan will begin receiving the childhood vaccinations that have been wiped from his body. And, as flu season approaches, he’ll likely spend more time at home, Reagan said.
“A cold could put him in the hospital for weeks,” she said. “He’s just really fragile right now.”
But once he’s stronger, Declan has a list of things he plans to do. He wants to go swimming and take a family trip to Great Wolf Lodge. He wants to visit a museum to see dinosaur fossils.
“He has a lot of big plans,” Reagan said.
He’s also looking forward to eating his favorite food: Domino’s pizza. He’s particularly susceptible to food poisoning right now and isn’t allow to eat out, but he should be cleared to eat restaurant foods soon, Reagan said.
Despite his successful transplant, Declan isn’t totally in the clear. He will be monitored closely for the next several years and will remain on various medications and supplements.
If his cancer does relapse, it’s unclear how he would be treated since he’s reached the lifetime maximum for several chemotherapy drugs. No clinical trials currently exist, either, Reagan said.
“We’re just running out of options at this point,” she said. Declan has just a 3 percent chance of survival, she said.
But, rather than focusing on the “what ifs,” the Reagan family is determined to let Declan enjoy life. They’re also using their experience to draw attention to childhood cancer and Be the Match, a bone marrow registry.
“We’re just going to take this opportunity, this platform and our story to get the word out,” Reagan said.
Since Declan’s relapse, the Reagans have made it their mission to get 430 people to join the registry. One in 430 people are a bone marrow match.
To date, they’ve added about 260 people. They’re teaming up with Be the Match to promote the organization’s Register & Respond campaign to get more first responders to join. Declan’s dad, Francis, is an officer with the Washougal Police Department.
They’re also advocates of blood donation. Since Declan’s journey began, he has received 21 units of red blood cells and 63 units of platelets.
The Reagans have teamed up with a handful of other families to host eight blood drives across Southwest Washington and Portland in two days, Wednesday and Thursday. They hope to collect 250 units of blood. Be the Match will be at some locations to add people to the bone marrow registry, as well.
The Reagan family is also preparing for the inaugural Dino Dash 5K on Sept. 23. The name came from Declan’s love of dinosaurs, which earned him the nickname “Declan the Dinosaur” during his first hospital stay.
The family hopes to raise $10,000 for the Declan the Dinosaur Hope Fund, which is used to purchase gas, grocery and restaurant gift cards for families with children in the hospital. A portion of the money also goes toward pediatric cancer research. Details on the Dino Dash and blood drives can be found on the Declan the Dinosaur Facebook page, www.facebook.com/DeclantheDinosaur.
“I think everyone has a voice, and we’re using ours,” Reagan said. “It helps us move forward, too.”
“This is just going to be a really small chapter in (Declan’s) life,” she added.