Isolation Patients Bond During Treatment

This post originally appeared on the Jimmy Fund blog.

By Erica Equi

“People would say ‘I feel bad for her’…I’m the same person I ever was, but better, stronger,” says 14-year-old Shannon Curley, reflecting on the time she spent in isolation treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. “I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve met so many amazing people and learned some important things.”

Jimmy Fund Clinic patients Shannon and Zack
Shannon and Zack shared their stories at the 2014 WEEI/NESN Jimmy Fund Radio-Telethon presented by Arbella Insurance Foundation

In December 2012, Shannon, a middle school basketball star and Billerica native, was diagnosed with acute bilineal leukemia. Due to the rarity and nature of her leukemia, doctors recommended an aggressive treatment plan. After three months of treatment, Shannon received a lifesaving bone marrow transplant and was put on a recovery plan that included a year in isolation to build up her immune system.

“After she got out of the hospital, Shannon had to go into a year of outpatient isolation treatment. Her immune system had been suppressed so her body would not reject the bone marrow, and that made her susceptible to infection,” explains Shannon’s mother, Carol Curley. “Although we were at Dana-Farber regularly, we’re lucky that she could go through isolation treatment at home and that she was able to make friends on the isolation floor during her visits to Dana-Farber.”

While in confinement Shannon kept a positive attitude and even offered support to other patients.

“I didn’t get the chance to meet everybody on the isolation floor, but I did have friends who went through treatment at the same time as me and we hung out every day,” says Shannon. “If you were in that hospital you would know it is not lonely.”

During Shannon’s outpatient isolation recovery she met 10-year-old Zack Hare from Spencer, Massachusetts, who had been diagnosed with FLT3 positive acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Zack’s doctors agreed a bone marrow transplant followed by inpatient isolation treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s was the best option to eradicate his cancer, which has a higher rate of relapse.

Shannon and Zack, Dana-Farber/Boston Children's patients
The two young patients bonded during their post-transplant isolation periods.

“We are so lucky that we lived only an hour away from Dana-Farber and could make routine trips to visit Zack at the hospital,” says his mother, Amy Hare. “We always saw familiar faces when we arrived and that was comforting. Zack was able to bond with the doctors and nurses and make friends with other patients, including a young girl named Shannon.”

Like Shannon, Zack loves playing basketball and is an avid Boston Red Sox fan. They quickly bonded and became friends. The two credit their friendship for helping them through this difficult time in their lives.

Shannon and Zack at "A Prom to Remember"
Friends Shannon and Zack enjoyed “A Prom to Remember” in 2014.

“When we knew Zack and his family were in the room next to us we would knock on the wall to say hi. It was nice to know we had friends there,” says Shannon’s mother, Carol. “As a parent, all you want for your kid during treatment is to see glimpses of happiness and smiles.  You want them to connect with other kids because cancer treatment can be such an isolating experience. When Shannon met Zack that began to happen. I have seen these types of bonds form at the Jimmy Fund Clinic over and over again.”

“Zack and Shannon formed a bond that will never be broken,” explains Amy. “During isolation treatment they would hang out with the nurses until all hours of the night and watch movies together—they even made a music video. Most importantly, they were there for each other during this very difficult time.”

Today, Shannon and Zack are healthy and doing better than ever. The two remain friends and work together to bring awareness to childhood cancer across Massachusetts.