Teaghan Swims through Leukemia Treatment

Holding hands, 3-year-old Teaghan Bresnahan and her mom run the length of the lake-front dock. At the dock’s end, Teaghan lets go – and gleefully leaps into the air to land in the water with a satisfying splash.

It may seem a typical summer scene. But for Teaghan, who has been in treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia for over a year, it’s particularly poignant. This type of leukemia usually requires two years of treatment. With the first year of more intense therapy now behind her, Teaghan is feeling better and getting a bit more swim time this summer.

Teaghan gets ready for a swim
Teaghan gets ready for a swim.

Teaghan had always been healthy – in her first two years, her only sickness was a single ear infection. That’s why her parents, Mandy and James, were surprised at her two-year annual check-up to learn her blood levels were off. A second blood test three days later found her levels had worsened. Her pediatrician suspected a virus. That Sunday, however, Teaghan developed petechiae (small red spots caused by bleeding into the skin) and a fever. Teaghan’s doctor sent them straight to the emergency room. That night, May 3, 2015, Teaghan was diagnosed with leukemia. Treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center started immediately.

For the most part, Teaghan has taken treatment in stride. The hardest part was the initial phase of treatment (called induction), when she was in the hospital 35 straight days. Teaghan fought through side effects of the various chemotherapies, as well as a bacterial infection. Teaghan has completed four out of five phases of her treatment plan, and now is in the final phase of treatment, called continuation. She receives less intensive chemotherapy, just once a week. Still, this treatment phase will last many months.

Teaghan has always enjoyed the water and started swim lessons when just six months old. She visits her grandparent’s house on the lake about once a week during summer and is always eager to get in the water – to swim, splash, and jump off the dock. Although now she uses a “puddle jumper” (flotation device) to help her swim, “she gets more and more confident in the water each time,” her mom Mandy says. “Before long she won’t need her puddle jumper to keep her afloat!”

Teaghan’s hair has grown back and she has resumed normal activities. She no longer has the visual side effects of cancer treatment. But even when she did, she and her parents didn’t want those to be defining characteristics. Ask Teaghan what she likes to do, and she might smile coyly and tell you: “I like to make silly faces!” After which, she might add, “I like to swim and jump off Nana and Grampy’s dock.” And as she continues to chat, you’ll also learn she likes to dance, paint, ride her tricycle, and cook with her parents.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month – and this month, Teaghan and other children at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s are sharing this message: We are more than you see. Don’t focus on the side effects of our treatment – see who we really are. Learn more and see more stories at DanaFarberBostonChildrens.org