Overcoming leukemia with strength and spirit

Adrianna was in kindergarten when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a fast-growing cancer that began in her bone marrow. Connecticut Children’s pediatric hematologist/oncologist Natalie Bezler, MD, offered her parents, Michelle and David, the opportunity to enroll Adrianna in a clinical trial. The clinical trial would give Adrianna access to experimental therapies that would otherwise be unavailable. Participating in the trial also meant contributing to a greater understanding of ALL. “Her blood, her fluids, her data would be used along with everybody else in the clinical trial to hopefully find better treatments for kids, to understand the disease better,” said Michelle, “and not have future kids have to go through the intense treatment that Adrianna had to go through.” 

Many nights in the hospital 

The next day, Adrianna and her mom dyed her hair pink and purple, a sign of the spirit and spunk that would carry her through the months of grueling treatment that were about to begin. During her first 14 days in Connecticut Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders, she underwent blood transfusions, surgery to insert a chemotherapy port, chemotherapy and lumbar punctures to collect samples of cerebrospinal fluid. In less than a year, Adrianna spent 96 nights in the hospital. To make her room homier, her parents brought in their own sheets and blankets and decorated the room. “We built forts for her. She did her own yoga. She would make paper slippers,” Michelle said. “But there were definitely days when she did not feel good. There were days that broke my heart.” In between hospital stays, she had many clinic visits for chemotherapy. Some phases required Adrianna to come to clinic four days a week for two weeks, then two weeks off. There were complications and many hard days along the way. She developed mucositis, inflammation of the lining of the mouth and gut that can lead to painful sores throughout her body. She was on a morphine pump to combat the pain at one point. There were birthday parties missed when her blood counts weren’t high enough to be discharged and times when she couldn’t walk and had to be carried everywhere.

From clinical trial to remission

Adrianna is now eight years old and in remission. Her final chemotherapy treatment was in June 2023 and she hasn’t been admitted to the hospital in over a year. She still goes to Connecticut Children’s once a month for follow-up visits. One of the cancer drugs she received, blinatumomab, has affected Adrianna’s ability to produce her own antibodies. Until her body begins to create antibodies on its own again, she needs immunoglobulin infusions to strengthen her immune system. Despite the hardship of cancer treatment, her zest for life still shines. She likes gymnastics, dancing and singing. She’s a Swiftie. “She’s got quite the personality. She’s a special kid,” said David. “I used to tell her, when she was sitting in the hospital, that 99 percent of people have never gone through what you’re going through. And you’ve beaten it. You can always look back on that as a source of strength.”