Last year, more than 100,000 patients from across the region came to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center for world-class care. Nearly 2,500 of them visited the Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders—patients like Anthony Reynoso.
Meet Jennifer Avelo and her son Anthony, who was diagnosed with ependymoma, a brain tumor, in 2011 and relapsed in 2013 and 2017. They are among the 2,500 patient families who visit the Center regularly and consider it a second home. Learn how the family is staying optimisic and how this diagnosis affects their everyday lives.
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For iHeartRadio’s Weekend of Giving, Renee DiNino, Director of Community Affairs at iHeartRadio speaks with Jennifer and her son Anthony.
To listen to the live recording please click here to visit iHeartRadio’s Community Access webpage.
Tell us about your son and what it was like when you first found out he was sick?
Jennifer: Anthony has been in treatment since he was diagnosed with his first brain tumor in 2011. His brain tumor is an ependymoma, which are cancer cells. We had a 14-hour long surgery with a pretty rough recovery. He did a lot of therapy—physical, speech and occupational. He was six years old at the time and basically had to relearn everything. We had a relapse in 2013 when they found a second tumor, and that was an 8-hour surgery. He also had radiation to his brain and spine.
As a mother, how do you keep going?
Jennifer: I have to, for him. I felt that if I had a negative vibe—if I felt down and if I cried—he would project my feelings. So I had to stay positive and strong, so he could continue.
What was the relationship with Anthony’s doctors and nurses like at Connecticut Children’s, and what did it mean for you to be able to stay in your hometown of Hartford?
Jennifer: We first got diagnosed by Dr. Martin, and he’s still in our lives. He’s been the one to do all three of Anthony’s surgeries—he had a third surgery in 2017, which was his last—we’re done because third time’s a charm! He’s great and we love him. He doesn’t use “doctor words”—he talks to you in a way you can understand each and every process that your child is going to go through. I feel like when Anthony is in Dr. Martin’s hands, he’s in great hands.
We also see our oncologist, Dr. Gillan, and she’s amazing with him also. She researches everything she can and tries everything to make sure Anthony’s cancer doesn’t come back. They’re great and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center is amazing.
What if you would have had to travel outside of Connecticut for treatment—could you have done that?
Jennifer: Even when he was in the Intensive Care Unit, they have a suite where the parents can stay in the hospital and be with your child the entire time. I never left the hospital the entire time he was there, so to have a little “getaway space” right inside the hospital meant so much.
If we had to travel for care, it would have been difficult, but I have a great support system. I have eight brothers and sisters, my mom and my husband. It would have been difficult, but I think we would have managed it. But we were able to stay in our hometown, and Anthony received his treatments close to home. I know other patients who have to travel far for treatment, and they don’t have their family or their support system.
How do you have this attitude—this happiness—that comes from you?
Anthony: Honestly, I just try to push all the negative thoughts out of my head and stay focused on the positive. I just focus on all the good things that could happen.
Can you tell us about your treatments and the doctors, nurses and staff at Connecticut Children’s?
Anthony: It was pretty scary at first, but after I started to get to know the doctors, I calmed down a little bit and felt more relaxed. The staff has become like family—they’re part of my support system.
Do you know other kids who have gone through treatment at Connecticut Children’s?
Anthony: I know a girl named Riley who is 4-years-old who has the same kind of brain tumor that I had.
What did it mean to have your mom at the hospital to always support you?
Anthony: It meant everything to me, because my mom is my main focus. She always keeps me so positive.
How often is Anthony back at Connecticut Children’s?
Jennifer: Anthony has chemo treatments every two weeks and takes oral chemo every day. He’ll continue treatments for another year.
Anthony, what do you think about, when you think about your future?
Anthony: Honestly, I don’t think too much about the future. I just focus on the positive and not worry about what’s going on in my head and get worked up about all of that.