The Stark Family: Home, and Healthy, for the Holidays
It’s often easy for people to take for granted the enjoyable routines of everyday life. Not the Stark family of Hampden. Like most other families who go to battle with pediatric cancer, it’s the simple and “normal” days they began yearning for a long time ago.
Little Andrew was just five years old when he was diagnosed with T-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2013. He immediately began treatment through the Baystate Regional Cancer Program at the Sadowsky Center for Children within the D’Amour Center for Cancer Care. He initially responded well to treatment; however, he later relapsed.
“It started in September of 2013 and continues today,” Andrew’s mother Julie Stark says. “The last two years have been filled with such heartbreak and joy. We know there are families whose journeys have been longer than ours.”
While receiving both inpatient and outpatient care at Baystate, Andrew’s doctors collaborated with bone marrow transplant teams at Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital.
“We know his doctors did everything they could to get Andrew into remission and ready for transplant,” Julie says. “We always appreciated their honesty during the whole process. His nurses not only treated him well, but made us feel comfortable, too."
Andrew’s older sister, Emily, was a perfect bone marrow match, so the procedure was completed in the spring of 2015. Since then, Andrew has been growing stronger and stronger while once again in remission. However, each cough, headache, and scrape is carefully monitored by his family and doctors.
Andrew is now eight years old, and just returned to school at the beginning of December. He keeps an admirable, positive spirit about the whole ordeal, and is simply excited to once again learn in the classroom, play outside with friends, run around, and be a “typical” eight year old boy.
“The intensity of dealing with a cancer diagnosis, relapses, and bone marrow transplant made it feel so much longer,” Julie says.
Home, Healthy, and Thankful
For the first time in a long time, the Stark family plans to be together and feeling healthy this holiday season.
“This is the first year that Andrew isn't scheduled for some kind of hospitalization or procedure over the holidays,” Julie says. “To say we are thrilled by this would be an understatement.”
The Starks are active in promoting pediatric cancer awareness, research, and comfort care. They are incredibly grateful for the care Andrew has received.
“We hold a special place in our hearts and are thankful for Baystate because it always felt personal -- like getting us a bigger room because we weren't sure how long Andrew's stay would be, or setting up a fort made of hospital sheets over Andrew's bed so he could hide out. There are so many more things I could name,” Julie says. “We never doubted that Andrew was in good hands while being treated at Baystate."
There’s no doubt that, as kids, Andrew, Emily, and Charlotte are hoping for certain age-appropriate presents this holiday season. However, no matter their age, the entire Stark family is well aware of how fortunate they are to have the biggest gift of all this year -- a normal routine and special time to celebrate their health together.
“We can all fully enjoy being together and seeing friends and family that we didn't get to see while Andrew was receiving treatment,” Julie says. “Since Andrew is feeling so much better and is so happy, it rubs off on the rest of the family. We are so excited to spend healthier holidays together!”