With his blonde hair, big smile and energetic personality, Auston Cagle appeared to be a thriving 6-year-old in January 2010.
“He was a completely normal, healthy child. The only time he ever went to the doctor was for routine immunizations and a virus or two,” said Auston’s mother, Amy.
On the morning of Jan. 21, 2010, Amy noticed that Auston’s lymph nodes seemed swollen. “He had some knots on his neck but he wasn’t running a fever. He didn’t want me to keep him home to go to the doctor because he didn’t want to ruin his perfect attendance record at school,” Amy said. Still concerned, Amy checked Auston out of school later that day and took him to his pediatrician’s office. “They did blood work and came back and told us that their machine was not working properly so we needed to go to the hospital for more blood tests and an X-ray,” she said.
Several hours later, the Cagles received Auston’s diagnosis. “The doctor finally came in and told us Auston had leukemia. He didn’t look sick and he didn’t feel sick and he was still upset that I had checked him out of school. The doctor told him, ‘You probably don’t feel sick right now but your blood is really sick,’” Amy said.
Following the doctor’s recommendation to “act with reasonable haste,” the Cagles packed their bags and drove from their home near Guntersville to Birmingham where Auston was admitted to Children’s of Alabama under the care of Dr. Joe Pressey, former director of the Developmental Therapeutics program at the Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s of Alabama. “We checked into the special care unit which is one step down from intensive care. I had no idea how sick he really was. His white blood count was 350,000 and a normal count is between 3,000 and 5,000,” Amy said. Auston was diagnosed with T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and began treatment that same evening.
For the next three-and-a-half years, Auston received both chemotherapy and radiation to battle his leukemia. “He had to get oral drugs and he would have IV chemo. After that first year he would have a spinal tap every three months to deliver different types of chemo to his spine and his brain. He also had radiation to his brain. For the first year we were there almost every week, then it was once a month. He also had numerous hospital stays in between for high counts and fevers,” Cagle said.
Cagle said that her entire family is appreciative of the support they have received at Children’s. “From our first check-in procedure to his last chemo, we were made to feel comfortable and included in his treatment. The doctors and the nurses in Clinic 8 were our family because we were isolated from the world for so long. The only people we would see from week to week were the other families and the doctors and nurses. We still consider them our friends and we are so very, very thankful they have been there for us. We wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else,” Amy said.
A year after completing his treatment, Auston returns to Children’s every three months for check-ups. He is now an active 11-year-old who enjoys baseball, fishing and hunting. “He likes being outside, digging in the dirt and playing. He’s a country boy through and through. He’s just going all the time, full of energy. He was that way before, during and after the treatments. He was not afraid of any of the treatments, not afraid of anything. He’s just very active and very strong,” Amy said.