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Local teen shares his battle with leukemia

  • St Mary's County,Calvert County
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Hollywood, MD - “Not our kid. He was a state athlete and always working hard. He was so athletic. We didn’t know what to do,” recounts Megan Dinopoulos of Calvert County.

In 2013, Megan’s son, Evan, then 13, started to show suspicious symptoms that raised concerns. “I felt sick when I was playing soccer. I was out of breath and became very tired,” Evan remembered. “I had several large bruises that never healed.”

It was one big bruise that really caught Megan’s attention. “We were on spring break and the last day he went into the ocean and he had a huge bruise all over his back.”

When the family returned home, Megan took Evan right to the pediatrician.
The doctor did bloodwork and discussed other symptoms with the family, including frequent nose bleeds. “We got a phone call at 9 o’clock at night asking us to come in the next morning so we knew it wasn’t good,” Megan shared.

The next morning, the pediatrician went over the test results and sent the family straight to Children’s National Medical Center—that’s where they learned Evan had acute promyelocytic leukemia or APL.

APL is a rare form of cancer—particularly in the United States. It was first documented in Norway and France in the late 1950s. It continues to be more prevalent in Europe than America and is rare for children.

Evan said it was overwhelming when he learned he had cancer, “Cancer is like the worst thing you can get [sic]. I didn’t think I’d beat it.”

“Evan wasn’t a poster child for cancer. He had several bad reactions to medications and he had a tough time taking pills. He experienced almost every side effect possible. He developed a “pseudo tumor,” had adverse reaction to lights and could barely walk after treatment,” Megan said. Despite it all, after seven weeks in the hospital, Evan made it to remission.

“It was so hard for him. He wasn’t a kid who sat inside and played video games. He wanted to be outside playing soccer.” Megan recalled. Evan’s doctors also recognized his desire to be outside doing what he loved. “One doctor snuck him outside to play soccer in the courtyard.”

Over the past 50 years, the rare APL has transformed from a highly fatal disease to a highly curable one. And thanks to Evan’s doctor who had been following treatments for APL, Evan was one of the first children in America to receive a new treatment that was being used in Europe. “It’s arsenic in the form of a chemotherapy drip over the period of seven to eight months,” Megan explained. Case studies have shown the survival rate jump from 70 percent to 95 percent with this treatment.

“If it wasn’t for the research in Europe, who knows where we would be?” Megan questioned. “Evan’s doctor was phenomenal and did a lot with the American Cancer Society. He learned of this treatment at a research seminar.” Megan said she was surprised their insurance company didn’t put up a fight to approve the treatment option. “It was approved within days and it all came together.”

During Evan’s freshman year at Patuxent High School, he attended just one class a day and was able to keep up with his studies thanks to an in-home tutor. And Evan continued to play soccer whenever he could. Megan said, “The research and soccer saved his life.”

The Dinopoulos family said the community support was overwhelming. “I was teaching in St. Mary’s County and the faculty and students were amazing. We were just exhausted but friends and neighbors came in and intercepted.” Megan also noted the support from other families in Southern Maryland who were battling cancer.

Evan also has an older and younger sister who were inundated by their brother’s battle. “My youngest daughter wouldn’t leave us. She spent a lot of time missing school to be with us at the hospital. My oldest was trying to help out but didn’t talk about it much.” Megan shared.

In the end, Megan said the family found strength within each other. “We’re a lot stronger and we feel like we’ve conquered a lot.”

Now a freshman at Wittenberg University in Springfield, OH, Evan’s fight is still fresh in his mind. “I have bone marrow biopsies every three months and just had one in December.” Doctors also monitor his heart and liver as part of the research for the arsenic treatment.

As he approaches five years in remission, Evan is now called a cancer survivor. “I don’t share my story with everyone. I pick and choose who I tell but I do tell my close friends.”

Evan shared a few words of wisdom for those battling cancer, “Stay positive and keep your head up.”

Evan’s story is just one of hundreds in Southern Maryland who have battled, or are still battling, blood cancers. The Dinopoulos family said research is critical to beating these diseases—and research costs money.

On Saturday, March 17, you can come out and show your support for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) at the first annual Fly4ACure Kite Festival at the St. Mary’s County Fairgrounds. Two area high school students are competing to raise money for LLS. Admission is $10, children four and under are free. The first 500 participants will also receive a free kite. TheBayNet.com is a proud sponsor of the event.

Together, we can make a difference!

Contact Joy Shrum at j.shrum@thebaynet.com

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