By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Joel Marketon is a quiet, somewhat shy, 5-year-old preschooler from Howard Lake who found his passion for professional wrestling this winter while watching it on TV with his dad, Mark.
Joel’s favorite wrestler is Jack Swagger. He is also a big fan of “green” tractors, and riding around the farm on his Gator, bike, or four-wheeler.
Unfortunately, Mark and Joel’s mother, Amy, were given the news Feb. 11 that no parent wants to hear. Joel was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Joel was placed in a clinical trial with a team of experts mapping out the best treatment program for him.
“Hopefully, someday, it will help others,” Amy said. “We want to help them learn something for someone else.”
Although the doctors have given Joel a good prognosis, with a 90 percent chance the leukemia will be cured, he is facing a long road to recovery, with three-and-one-half years of chemotherapy ahead of him.
In order to assist the family during this difficult time, all of the proceeds from the Howard Lake Lions Palm Sunday breakfast buffet, April 1 from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. will be donated to the Marketon family
There is also a Joel Marketon Benefit Fund set up for the Marketon family at Citizens State Bank, 609 Pacific Avenue, P.O. Box 68, Waverly, MN 55390.
Diagnosis and treatment
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells that affects lymphocytes, the blood cells used to fight infections.
In ALL, the bone marrow makes lots of unformed cells, called blasts, that normally would develop into lymphocytes. However, the blasts are abnormal, do not develop, and cannot fight infections.
The number of abnormal cells (or leukemia cells) grows quickly, crowding out normal red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets the body needs.
Amy started suspecting something was wrong earlier this year when she noticed that Joel looked really pale, and mentioned it to his pediatrician when she took Joel in for pink eye the week before he was diagnosed with leukemia.
The doctor told her not to worry after reviewing Joel’s blood work from last August, when he had Lyme’s Disease. His hemoglobin levels looked fine at that time, Amy said.
However, Joel started to complain about pain in his chest and legs shortly after that doctor visit, so Amy brought him in again Feb. 10.
This time, a chest x-ray was done, and more blood work was taken. The chest x-ray came back normal, but Joel’s hemoglobin levels were abnormally low.
The Marketons were sent to Children’s Hospital, where a bone marrow biopsy was taken the next day to confirm Joel had leukemia.
After being diagnosed, the Marketons were told Joel would go through three phases of treatment: induction, consolidation, and maintenance.
To begin the induction phase, Joel had a port placed for chemotherapy treatments the day after his bone marrow biopsy. The treatments began that afternoon, and Joel was able to leave the hospital Feb. 15.
He returned to the hospital every Monday for more chemotherapy treatments, which make him tired.
Although he is scheduled to go to preschool three days each week, Joel has only been able to attend a couple of Fridays, leaving early when he is tired.
Other treatment during the induction phase has included chemotherapy directly in his spine to attack leukemia cells that tend to hide there, and steroids.
The steroids have caused Joel to gain some weight, and he was hungry all the time, Amy said. Mark added that they can also shorten muscles, and make him less mobile.
Joel used to love ice cream, but the treatment has caused some foods, like dairy products, to taste funny to him, Amy said.
Throughout the induction phase, Joel has had a cold due to his weakened immune system.
Joel completed the induction phase of chemotherapy last Monday, and his parents were told he is technically in remission.
However, the consolidation phase of treatment begins this week, and will continue the next four months.
The consolidation therapy includes receiving a high dose of methotrexate, a powerful chemotherapy drug, every three weeks for the next four months.
Each time Joel receives a dose, he will have to remain in the hospital until the drug is completely flushed out of his system, Amy said.
Following the induction phase of treatment is the maintenance phase, which is less intense than the first two phases and can last up to three years.
In the time since Joel was diagnosed with ALL, the Marketons have received a lot of support from friends, family, and the community.
The family appreciates all the prayers, the meals that have been provided, and the gas cards which have helped pay for the many trips to Children’s Hospital.
Marketons encourage donation of cord blood
In addition to Joel, the Marketons have three other children, Travis Waldhoff, 16; Morgan Marketon, 6; and 2-week-old Hannah Marketon.
When Hannah was born, the Marketons saved the blood from her umbilical cord. Stem cells found in the cord blood can be used to treat various disorders, including leukemia.
The University of Minnesota provided the kit to collect the cord blood.
When Mark asked the doctor why he had never heard of donating or saving cord blood, the doctor explained that it was a very new process.
Being so new, there are not many cord blood banks to store it yet, Mark said.
Although it is unlikely Joel will need to use stem cells from cord blood in his recovery, the Marketons encourage others to consider donating cord blood in order to help others.
“They just throw it all out, but it can be stored to help some little kid with cancer, you know,” Amy said.