After 120 weeks of chemo treatments, 4-year-old from Battlefield, Mo. gets optimistic prognosis in battle with leukemia

Published: Oct. 20, 2021 at 6:48 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - A cancer diagnosis for a child is a shocking and scary thing to hear for any parent.

This year around 10,500 children under the age of 15 will be diagnosed with some form of pediatric cancer in the U.S. but the horrible scenario can have a happy ending.

Just ask the family of Payden Matthews.

It was in March 2019 that David and Erin Matthews found out their 17-month-old son Payden had leukemia.

“It came as a complete shock,” Erin said at the time. “You never expect to hear that word for a kid, cancer. I’m a worrier but it never crossed my mind that I would hear that and I remember just thinking, ‘Please take that back. Please don’t have just said that.’ I was thinking that my child was going to die.”

For two-and-a-half years the family made some 20 five-hour trips to St. Jude’s in Memphis and weekly visits to Mercy in Springfield where Payden’s everyday life was filled with chemotherapy, spinal taps, bone marrow tests, and lots of medications.

“There are tons of questions about how can you possibly get through this not only physically but emotionally and financially,” David said.

Because of the chemo, Payden lost his blond, curly hair and regressed in his development.

“When he started treatment about two weeks in he stopped walking and then stopped crawling,” David recalled. “So we basically carried him everywhere.”

But you wouldn’t know that now.

On Wednesday the now four-year-old Payden was running all around a playground just outside the entrance to the Mercy Kids Hospital.

He had a gold Superman cape on that had the letter “P” on the back and was wearing a T-shirt that said it all: “Dear Cancer, I totally kicked your butt.”

“If you didn’t know he was in treatment you probably couldn’t tell any difference,” David said. “He acts like all the other kids, running around constantly getting into trouble and poking puppy dogs in the eye.”

After a doctor’s visit, Payden was joined by members of the Mercy staff out on the playground for a very special ceremony.

To mark the end of his 120 weeks of chemo treatments, the staff serenaded Payden with a song “No More Chemo” and then had him ring a bell that all pediatric cancer patients get to do as part of their good-bye to the rigors of constant visits.

To the Matthews family, it was like Christmas Day.

“It’s been a very long journey that in the beginning seemed like it would never come to an end,” David said. “It seemed so far and so distant. Now it’s just more surreal than anything.”

“It’s a great day,” said Dr. Francisca Fasipe, Payden’s Pediatric Specialist. “No more chemotherapy! And usually, we will say at five years if he has not had a relapse it’s very unlikely that he will relapse.”

Back in the 1970s, the survival rate for pediatric cancer was 58 percent. But over the years medical advancements have brought that number up substantially.

“Most children with cancer have good outcomes,” Fasipe said. “Children like Payden with leukemia have a cure rate of about 95 percent. Some patients with brain tumors are more difficult to treat but overall, compared to adults, children do very well.”

Payden’s cancer was discovered just in time.

“If he had not been diagnosed as quickly as he had, he only had about a month left,” David said.

David also said that Payden had shown remarkable resilience over those 120 weeks and that everything you need to know about how Payden handled it all came when he was getting treatment at the hospital and spotted a little girl who was crying after dropping a cookie.

“Without hesitating, he gets up and takes his cookie over and gives it to her,” David recalled. “And he loves cookies! So for him to be in a horrible situation where the world is not nice to him and for him to take care of someone else in that situation, it really proved to me how capable he was at handling all of this. I do think he has a stronger character than I do. After all the pain he’s gone through I think it would be really difficult for a lot of people to stay as positive as he has.”

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