One-year-old cancer survivor celebrates at Lutheran’s 35th Annual National Cancer Survivors Day event
In November 2021, life changed in an instant for the Arrieta family when they found out their one-year-old son, AJ, had cancer. A month prior, AJ’s parents took him for his one-year checkup to his pediatrician, who used an app called GoCheck Kids, which caught an abnormality in his left eye.
The doctor referred AJ to a pediatric optometrist and said that he would probably need glasses in the future. The optometrist confirmed that there was a mass that was most likely a type of cancer called retinoblastoma. A retinoblastoma specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado confirmed the family’s fears. It was cancer. In fact, it was one of the rarest cancers that only affects 250-300 kids per year in the U.S. and 20,000 in the world.
Fortunately, the tumor was only in his left eye. It hadn’t invaded the optic nerve or spread to AJ’s brain. His type of cancer and tumor was assessed on an A-E scale with A being the smallest that likely doesn’t require chemotherapy, and E being the worst that would likely require removing his eye. AJ’s was categorized as a Grade C.
AJ began Intra-arterial chemotherapy (IAC), which delivers concentrated doses of cancer-killing medicine directly to the affected area of the eye. In IAC, the chemotherapy dose is released into the ophthalmic artery, the primary blood supply at the back of the eye. It’s a relatively new treatment that’s extremely effective in fighting retinoblastoma. This type of treatment targeted the tumor directly so very little chemo spread through his body.
AJ underwent two rounds of IAC, one in November and one in December, then three rounds of laser treatments. In addition, he underwent multiple exams under anesthesia and experienced one complication, a blood clot in his groin where they injected the AIC, but AJ was a fighter, and his family never gave up hope.
In March his family received the news that the tumor was no longer active and there were no new growths, and by April, AJ was in remission.
“We are so grateful that it was caught early,” said Veronica Arrieta, AJ’s mom. “This type of cancer can grow and spread fast and we’re so thankful for the doctors who saved him and the treatment options available to us. We’re very fortunate to live in Colorado because Children’s Hospital in Denver is one of about 10 centers in the country that treat this type of cancer.”
AJ’s grandma, Christina, is also a cancer survivor. In June, AJ and his family attended Lutheran Medical Center’s 35th Annual National Cancer Survivors Day Celebration of Life event at Red Rocks Medical Center, the new home of Lutheran's cancer program.
They celebrated AJ’s amazing survivor journey with more than 200 people who have survived or have recently been diagnosed with cancer, along with their family and friends. The event was sponsored in part by the Lutheran Foundation and Lutheran Volunteers and featured live music, hula dancing, food and prizes, as well as 13 survivor/education resource booths. With survivors ranging in age from two years to 80, AJ was one of the youngest.
“We found out AJ was in remission on April 18, and this was a great opportunity to celebrate him and my mom’s recovery,” said Veronica. “This is a club no parent wants to be in, but we’re so grateful for the care AJ received and that we’re on the other side of it.”