Landon's leukemia: the journey of a toddler and his family

By KBJR News 1

May 6, 2014 Updated May 6, 2014 at 11:59 AM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Perhaps the worst news a parent could hear would be your child has cancer.

But pediatric oncologists say times have changed and the news, while frightening, is not as devastating as it once was. A Duluth family’s toddler undergoes treatment for his leukemia.

“So... I just kind of want to review kind of the case with what's going on with Landon's leukemia. Uh, today we are going to be giving him medication just to, uh, keep those cells, uh, bad cells away. Do you want to play with the car or the airplane? Airplane? Airplanes are cooler,” Essentia St.Mary's Pediatric Oncologist, Dr. Ross Perko, said.

“When he was first diagnosed he had the bone pain and the fevers, and that was kind of the leukemia taking over his body, but when we started our treatment early on, uh, his body tolerated it quite well,” Perko added.

It was the end of November and 2-year-old Landon just wasn't feeling well. At first they thought it was just a passing bug, but things got worse.

“He had, uh, stopped walking for a couple of weeks, and so, um, with the walking and the fevers I had kept bringing him in, and, uh, finally, after one of the times that I brought him in, they had tested his blood, and that's when they found out that's what it was,” Landon's mom, Alexis Markovich, said.

What it was, was cancer... leukemia.

“It was hard to fathom,” Landon's dad, Daniel Rogentine, said.

“It was emotional,” Landon’s mom said.

Daniel and Alexis were terrified that their two year old had ALL Leukemia. They had heard that the survival rate was not good, but Pediatric Oncologist Dr. Ross Perko, at Essentia St. Mary's quickly pointed out that times have changed.

“In the early 1960's the survival rate for a disease, like what our patient has today, was about four percent. Now, in 2014, a patient with the exact same diagnosis has a survival rate of over 94 percent treated with modern day protocols,” Perko said.

Dr. Perko warned Landon's parents, Alexis and Daniel, that the treatment could be pretty tough on little Landon and would extend over about three years, but he said kids are strong and resilient.

“If you gave me these same medications I would probably be in bed for a week, and we give Landon these medications and he'll be up an hour later in the playroom,” Perko said.

Most days Landon's mom gives him his oral chemotherapy medicine at home, but on the day we visited Landon he was spending three days in the hospital for more intensive treatment. He had a lumbar puncture and chemotherapy through a spinal tap.

“How do you think he's going to tolerate the medicine?” Landon's dad asked Perko.

“We'll make sure we have the anti–nausea medicines, and if you need more of that, you know to ask the nurses and we can always give him more,” Perko said.

Landon played through the entire treatment. His big sister Kyler played right alongside her baby brother.

“Does it get scary sometimes here? Yeah. Why? Because, he's crying,” Landon's 3-year-old sister, Kyler Rogentine, said.

But there was no crying the day we were there. Alexis and Daniel say they have known people who have left Duluth to get their cancer treatment, but getting Landon treated in Duluth makes everything so much better for the family.

“We're in town, we're closer to our home and our family for support. We didn't have to leave and pack up and move,” Landon's mom said.

“It would have been a lot on us if we had to go to the cities for all of his treatments,” Landon’s dad said. Dr. Perko says that's something else that has changed.

Cancer patients used to have to go to academic centers like the University of Minnesota or the Mayo Clinic, but now the same protocols and treatments are available closer to home.

“They can sleep in their own bed and play with their own toys. Siblings go to their own school. Mom and Dad can maybe go to their own job, and the stresses of all that are so much better when you're closer to home,” Perko said.

Landon's parents say they know they can take the baby home after this intensive treatment and not have to go back to the hospital for several weeks.

“It was rough at first but now he's just like a normal young boy (laughs),” Landon’s dad said.

We plan to follow Landon periodically through the next few years as his treatment at St. Mary's Essentia Health continues.

Barbara Reyelts