Chemo intensifies for Holland as transplant nears

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Intense bursts of chemotherapy used every six hours to fight teen's aggressive cancer

By Marty Finley

Uncertainty walks the halls of Kosair Children’s Hospital with Regina Hensley like a permanent shadow, each step creating a disparate mix of uneasiness and hope as she prays for her son’s survival but braces for bad news.

“I know he’ll be fine,” she said, holding back tears on the phone Wednesday as her son, Andrew Holland, recuperated. “He has to be fine.”

The two have engaged each persecution Ewing’s Sarcoma can conjure, but the 16-year-old may have never been battered like this by chemotherapy — five times stronger than the normal dose, coming in six-hour increments like the repetitive sound of an alarm clock.

“It’s worn me out, I’ll say that,” says a smiling Holland on a video log he recorded from his hospital room, posted on YouTube and linked to Facebook so friends and family can track his progress.

He declined to speak to The News-Enterprise Wednesday as he tried to find some rest. Earlier, he noted in a log his strength was expected to wane as the treatments continued.

Hensley is unsure how many more video logs his body will allow.

The aggressive and potentially life-threatening treatment was chosen by his physicians to slow the progress of the cancer. Harvesting millions of Holland’s own stem cells, doctors plan to transplant the new bone marrow to replenish cells and stabilize his immune system, depleted by the treatment.

Hensley said the chemotherapy is expected to continue through the week with a day of relaxation before the transplant begins. He underwent surgery Tuesday for the installation of a central line, which serves as the conduit for both the chemo and the bone marrow transplant, his mother said.

Holland has been placed on a rigorous schedule since, completing physical therapy for a half hour three times each day and showering daily to reduce the likelihood of germs and bacteria, which could lead to infection, she said. He fell in the shower earlier this week and is now required to use a chair when bathing.

“It’s just a lot of stuff they didn’t tell us to expect,” she said.

He received troubling news Wednesday as his liver levels fluctuated high. Hensley said the liver has not failed, but the implications could be severe, which has added to her worries.

Holland has lost friends to the transplant. One of the success stories recovered in a little more than 20 days and his therapist has challenged him to do better, Hensley said, defying the prognosis he could stay in Louisville for 45 to 90 days between treatment and recovery.

“You know Andrew, he’s all about challenges,” she said.

During his first video log, Holland gave his online audience a brief tour of his room, inflecting his trademark humor as he swept his hand over the food stash he brought from home because he dislikes hospital food. He told well wishers to stay away if they even have a hint of the sniffles as a guard against sickness. His visits are limited for the same reason.

Hensley said her son agreed to the torment of the treatments and the possibility of failure because he wants the opportunity to be a normal teenager — unencumbered by illness if only for a brief time.

Friends and supporters have donated or made items for an online silent auction, which Hensley hopes will be held later this month to assist with bills and expenses during the trying period.

Uncertainty may continue to loom around the two in the coming days, but despair has not entered those halls.

“I pray we walk out together,” she said.

Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762 or mfinley@thenewsenterprise.com