Fight like Isaac

Two-year-old Colusa boy battling leukemia

Sometime in mid-October of this year, Daisy Franco Franco first began to notice something was off about her youngest son.

She and her husband noticed that Isaac’s appetite had decreased and that his color was changing.

“He looked a little yellow to us,” Franco said.

Isaac, not yet two, had always been a healthy boy, even during Franco’s pregnancy, so it wasn’t necessarily cause for alarm.

“We thought maybe it was a growth spurt,” Franco said. “We didn’t really think anything of it.”

Then Isaac began having low-grade fevers. It worried Franco — who works in the medical field herself — caused her to seek the advice of her son’s doctor.

“To me, that was a sign of infection, that his body was trying to fight some kind of infection. So I emailed his doctor, and his doctor kind of confused him with my older son, who had been in for a flu shot,” Franco said. “I asked him if I should take him to the emergency room, and he suggested no, it’s probably due to the flu… I thanked him for the response, but it was the wrong child.”

Franco decided not to take Isaac to the emergency room, but on the following Monday, she did take Isaac to see his nurse practitioner. According to Franco, she said it looked like Isaac was fighting a viral infection, but agreed that his color did look a little bit off.

“She said let’s go ahead and do some blood work. Sure enough, I went right away to the lab and we drew his blood, and later that night she called me at about 7:30 PM, and told me calmly that she received his results, and called it critical — meaning that there was something abnormal with the lab results,” Franco said. “She said that they were a little bit off, and said that I needed to pack some bags and go directly to UC Davis Children’s Medical Center.”

The words you wish you’d never hear

As soon as Isaac’s health care provider mentioned UC Davis, Franco had a sinking feeling that it was something serious.

“I started crying, because I just had this gut feeling that something was not okay with our son,” Franco said. “So I came home, told my husband and we packed up our bags and drove there.”

The staff at the hospital immediately began running labs, and soon presented Franco and her husband with some numbers from the results. The one that jumped out at Franco was Isaac’s very low hemoglobin levels, which seemed to confirm her fears.

“I knew that it was a sign of leukemia,” Franco said.

After spending more than a day at the hospital and being admitted to the pediatric unit, a group of around 10 doctors came into Franco’s room and informed here that her son did indeed have leukemia.

“As a parent, those are the words that you wish you will never have to hear as a diagnosis for your child,” Franco said. “I was shocked, I was scared, and all I could do was hug Isaac and I started crying. I had all of these emotions.”

That’s when Isaac did something that stirred even the doctors in the room: He grabbed a tissue and wiped his mother’s tears.

“To me, that was a sign of him saying, ‘Hey mom, we’re going to be OK,” Franco said. “I can’t even explain it.”

After another battery of tests that included more blood work, a surgery to place a port in his chest, a lumbar puncture and a bone marrow biopsy, Franco and her husband learned the kind of leukemia that their son has: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The referral, the tests, the diagnosis came in the span of three days, just two weeks before Isaac’s second birthday.

“The day that I took him into the doctor, I had literally just mailed out invitations for his party. I had to call everyone and tell them we would have to move the date.”

Isaac actually spent his second birthday at the UC Davis Children’s Medical Center. It worked out alright, thanks to the great staff at the hospital, Franco said.

“They are amazing there. They got him cookies, they sang him Happy Birthday and they got him a little gift, so he didn’t spend his birthday without that,” she said.

They also had some good news regarding his diagnosis.

Because of Isaac’s age, and the early stage at which the cancer was caught, Franco said that her son has a higher prognosis of being cured of his leukemia after numerous chemotherapy treatments and various other medications.

Little guy, big fight

The first week into Isaac’s treatment program, he was still acting like a normal child, Franco said. Her son’s lack of lethargy surprised doctors, because his hemoglobin was so low.

“He’s already had to have like four blood transfusions in the last five weeks, but he was acting himself. He was laughing, he was dancing after his surgery,” Franco said.

“But it was after his treatment started up that his health started deteriorating little by little. He started losing weight. He actually isn’t able to walk right now, because the chemotherapy causes really bad pain. He’s also weak, so he hasn’t walked for us, now going for three weeks.”

He wasn’t smiling or wanting to talk much either, but Franco said that Carlos, Isaac’s 10-year-old brother, made him laugh for the first time.

“Now, he’s smiling and laughing, playing with his toys, so that to us was amazing,” Franco said. “We saw that in him, and as a parent I would cry, because I wondered if I would ever see my child back like his normal self again. And it wasn’t until a week ago that he started to be Isaac again.”

The Road ahead

Isaac’s road to beating leukemia isn’t yet over. In fact, he will have to continue treatment for some time.

“Basically, he is going to be in a maintenance program — that’s what they call it — for about two-and-a-half years. For the next six months, he still will have to go to UC Davis and get blood work done once a week, and he will need to receive chemotherapy one a week as well, for sure for the next month.” Franco said. “I don’t know if the chemo will slowly decrease, or if it will spread out for the next two years to make sure it doesn’t come back.”

That’s right: Come back.

Last Friday, the Franco family received news that Isaac was now in remission.

“That’s like the best Christmas present we could have ever received. You know, our Christmas is so much better because of it,” Franco said.

But that doesn’t mean Isaac’s battle is over just yet.

“I thought, great, he’s in remission, so no more chemo. But it doesn’t work like that. There is so much that is unknown about leukemia and childhood cancer, and I’m slowly learning this myself.”

He will continue to get chemotherapy through his spine via lumbar punctures, and in his chest through the port, and will now have to go on an oral chemotherapy medication, administered once a day.

“Isaac still has a long road ahead, but with a lot of prayer, and having that hope and that faith that we’re not going to lose, he will win his battle against this childhood leukemia,” Franco said. “We’ve had amazing support through our family, our friends, and the community in general. Strangers have come up to us and donated, or said a prayer, and that’s what has helped us as parents and as a family to get through these difficult seven weeks.”

Isaac’s GoFundMe

A group of Daisy Muñnoz Franco’s life-long friends have set up a fundraising campaign to give financial support for Isaac’s ongoing chemotherapy treatments. Donations will help to pay for Isaac’s medical costs and keep the Franco family afloat through all of his treatments.

“Our best friend of 30-plus years, Daisy Muñnoz Franco, recently found out 14 days before her baby boy’s 2nd birthday, that he was diagnosed with Leukemia. This heart-wrenching situation has been a roller coaster for the entire Franco family,” Cassie Vazquez wrote on the page. “They have been overwhelmed with love and support from those around them. Instead of Isaac spending his already planned 2nd birthday party with his family and friends, he will begin the process of chemotherapy. Isaac has been incredibly brave. In fact, he gave his mother a tissue when she found out the devastating news. He is such a sweet and caring boy!”

The campaign was established on Nov. 9 with a goal of $20,000 in mind, and more than $12,000 has been raised in one month. Donations can be made at www.gofundme.com/fightlikeisaac

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net