After a suspected pneumonia case took a quick turn, Carter spent the next 100 days at BC Children’s Hospital
Carter Milaney’s symptoms began over Thanksgiving weekend in 2015. It wasn’t anything too troubling at first: he had a cold, pain in his left shoulder, and overall fatigue. The next week, his symptoms progressed to a high fever and difficulty breathing.
“The doctors thought it was pneumonia,” said his mom Marla. “They gave him steroids, an inhaler, and some antibiotics to take.”
But Carter, who was ten, only got worse. The doctors put him on breathing support and tried different medications. After nothing worked, he was airlifted from Kelowna to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at BC Children’s Hospital. There, doctors worked tirelessly to figure out why a healthy child couldn’t fight off a common infection.
Because he could no longer breathe on his own, Carter was intubated for the next ten days. The doctors tested for a host of diseases — including HIV and tuberculosis — to pinpoint what was wrong. After a few more days went by, “Carter got really bad really quick,” Marla said.
The doctors knew they had to try something different, and they ordered an urgent CT scan and bone marrow biopsy. That gave them their answer — Carter was diagnosed with stage four Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL), a rare type of cancer that represents only 10 per cent of non-Hodgkin lymphoma cases in children.
Within hours, Carter started his first of 11 rounds of chemotherapy. Despite the treatment and an improvement in his outward symptoms, the cancer spread to his kidneys and pancreas.
“That was the hardest part for us — the diagnosis that things weren’t getting better,” Marla said.
Desperate to save him, they tried a newly-approved therapy drug targeted specifically to ALCL. Carter had four more rounds of chemotherapy followed by preparation for a bone marrow transplant in May. That involved three days of heavy chemotherapy and six rounds of Total Body Irradiation.
After the transplant, Carter spent two months in the hospital from complications with his cells fighting the donor cells, including nausea so intense he needed to be fed through IV, fevers, and a full body rash. Once he regained his strength, he finished his last four rounds of chemotherapy.
Even during the hardest times, the family found happiness at the hospital. Carter’s mom describes one of his best memories as the time he was playing Dutch Blitz. “He taught the card game to the child life team and volunteers. Everyone was intense while playing it. Carter was laughing so hard.”
A year and a half after the diagnosis, Carter is in remission and back in Kelowna with his family. His body is, however, dealing with various side-effects from treatment. His adrenal glands have gone to sleep, he takes daily hydrocortisone, and if he gets a fracture or head trauma, he needs an additional injection of hydrocortisone to prevent his body from going into shock.
Carter goes to BC Children’s for monthly checkups and he will continue to visit regularly for the next ten years. However, despite a life-changing diagnosis, he is back to doing what he loves — football, soccer and road biking. That’s exactly why he wants other kids to know about his experience.
"I tell my story so people know there are more kids that get better and back to what they were doing before they got sick,” Carter said.