A bright future made possible
This time of year, hundreds of area high school seniors don caps and gowns and look forward to life after high school. For Aaron Kurz, it’s an especially momentous occasion because it was one that his parents once feared he may never live to see.
Aaron was born with neuroblastoma, the most common form of cancer in infants and a type of cancer that develops in the nerve cells. Neuroblastomas often originate in an adrenal gland and are often found after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, liver, lungs and bone marrow. Neuroblastomas caught before they have spread are much easier to treat and survival rates are exceptionally better. Aaron was fortunate that his cancer was detected early, very early.
“At eight months in my pregnancy during a routine ultrasound, doctors detected a mass and an adrenal hemorrhage at the top of Aaron’s kidney. Within days of his birth, his cancer was diagnosed and a treatment plan was in place,” says Anne Buckley, Aaron’s mother. “I feel extremely fortunate that we were able to benefit from the incredible research and technological advancements that made it possible to essentially identify Aaron’s cancer before he was even born.”
Aaron was born on Tuesday, May 21, 1996. Three days later he was discharged to VCU Medical Center for additional testing. It was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, and Anne and Aaron's father, Hank Kurz, were informed that his results would be in by Wednesday of the following week. Wednesday came, and at noon they got a call saying that Aaron needed to be admitted to the hospital. He had stage 1 neuroblastoma and needed surgery to remove the tumor.
“Our family was new to Richmond and did not have a big support system. I was just a few days post-partum and still recovering from my Cesarean section,” says Anne. “I was overwhelmed by the compassion, sympathy and kindness expressed by the VCU medical team as well as by the support offered by the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation (ASK). Aaron was everyone’s primary concern, but they also made sure that I was doing okay, physically and emotionally, and that I could also tend to the needs of my other son, who was only two and a half years old.”
Aaron’s operation was performed when he was just 10 days old, and it successfully removed the tumor. Following his surgery, he was monitored carefully by pediatric oncologists at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU (CHoR) and VCU Massey Cancer Center (Massey), who conducted routine tests to make sure his cancer did not recur. When he turned five, his doctors informed Anne that he did not have to be seen as frequently, because after five years cancer-free it was unlikely that his cancer would return.
“I was really scared at first that the cancer might come back,” says Anne. “It wasn’t until he was in his early teens and was enrolled in a study of long-term pediatric cancer survivors that I felt like we were in the clear. Something about reading the words ‘long-term survivor’ on the study’s consent form was a huge relief.”
Growing up, Aaron recognized that he saw the doctor a little more frequently than his friends, and he and his parents were involved with ASK and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. But life was otherwise normal. He had no side effects from the cancer or its treatment, and today, he is a healthy young man. He is an honor student and a musician, and he is looking forward to playing baseball and studying at Hampden-Sydney College in the fall. He even won his school’s annual talent contest, the Mr. James River High School Pageant. If it wasn’t for the scar on his abdomen from the incision, there would be no sign that Aaron ever had a life-or-death struggle.
“I haven’t completely decided on a major, but I’ve given a lot of thought to concentrating in pre-medicine,” says Aaron. “I’ll never forget that someone dedicated their life to medicine in order to save kids like me. It would be rewarding to see that come full circle.”
For Anne, it’s hard to believe that her youngest son is already graduating. “Looking back, it was a bitter-sweet experience. It was so frightening, but it was punctuated with times of intense hope and compassion,” she says. “I’m just so thankful that he is alive and well with a bright future ahead of him.”