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Colten White

With a medical history that includes an autoimmune disease known to sometimes cause cancer, Colten White always knew he had an increased risk of developing cancer. Knowing the risk, however, and expecting it to ever happen are very different.

It all started the summer before his sophomore year of high school. Colten was enjoying summer at the beach when symptoms began. First it was night sweats. Then it was a lump in his groin. Eventually it was lower abdominal pain. Although he thought it was probably nothing, Colten went to his pediatrician. “They prescribed an antibiotic, but it never worked,” Colten says. “I eventually went back to the pediatrician again and they ran labs, but the labs were completely fine.”

The labs were fine, but Colten’s problems persisted. That’s when his doctor decided to send him to a surgeon at Children’s of Alabama for a biopsy. “Even then, no one thought there was even a chance of it being cancer because all of my lab work was perfect,” Colten says. “But when my mom got the phone call the very next week, I knew it was something lifechanging.”

That’s when Colten and his family found out that he had Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma, one of the most common and aggressive type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. An appointment was already made for him at the Children’s oncology clinic the very next morning. “That night before the appointment, I don’t think I slept at all,” Colten says. “It wasn’t real to me yet. I knew I had cancer, but it didn’t feel like I had it.”

The very next morning Colten and his family traveled to Children’s to meet oncologist Ana Xavier, M.D., to go over potential treatment plans.  “Dr. Xavier came right up to me when we arrived and gave me a hug and told me that everything was going to be OK,” Colten adds. “Knowing her like I do now, I know she really meant what she was saying. In the moment, it was incredibly comforting.”

The Whites and Dr. Xavier talked over all of the potential treatment plans, which all hinged on the progression of the cancer. They also made plans for Colten’s scans, which came back revealing that his cancer was at a stage 4. “It was quite shocking,” Colten says. “I remember feeling very desperate, but as a Christian, I had faith. That gave me peace through it all, and I knew it was just a season in my life that had a trial I had to go through.”

With a diagnosis of stage 4, Dr. Xavier thought it best to give Colten an intense chemotherapy treatment, which required him to be in and out of the hospital every two to three weeks. Treatment started almost immediately, and over the course of the next nearly six months, Colten received all five cycles of scheduled chemo, all on time, which was critical in the projected survival rate. “We knew that if I missed a chemo cycle that the survival rate would drop,” Colten says. “Thankfully, everything worked out, and I never missed.”

Thus far, Colten seems to be cancer free. He still visits Children’s every three months for lab work and monitoring, but so far all has been well. “We have found through this that you celebrate each little success along the way,” says Rhiannon, Colten’s mother. “It helps you get through it. The big picture is long and drawn out and scary, but if you take every single win, it’s better.”

Also making the process better is the support Colten and his family received at Children’s. “I remember the nurses writing encouraging notes on my window, and it inspired me to keep pushing forward and keep trying every day and to be thankful for where I was,” Colten says. “It also inspired me to go into nursing myself.”