A Four-Year-Old's Lesson in Cancer, Life and Science - WBAY

A Four-Year-Old's Lesson in Cancer, Life and Science

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Millions of dollars are spent every year trying to fight childhood cancer. In Wisconsin, on average 177 kids are diagnosed with some form of the disease each year.

For the Steinhorst family in Green Bay, their last hope lies with doctors and an experiment with no proven results.

"When my sister grows up, can she be on my team?" four-year-old Colton asks his mom Tara.

"She can be on your team, too," Tara responds.

In December Colton's family made a tough decision.

"If it keeps his cancer stable, then it could buy us a couple years," Tara said.

Colton was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in August 2011.

Remission brought relief in the spring and summer of 2012. But days before Halloween, new test results showed what the family feared.

"We immediately knew that relapse wasn't a good option," Tara said. "I mean, they told us out in Colorado it was 97 percent fatal."

Conventional chemotherapy would no longer work.

Colton's family made the decision to try and buy time. "We decided in December we were going to try to go forward with this experimental transplant," Tara said.

On April 10, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison American Family Children's Hospital, Colton became the seventh patient in a clinical trial, the only one of its kind, doctors say.

Doctors would take 28 million of Tara's stem cells and transplant them inside Colton, hoping they'd attack and destroy the cancer.

"We wanted to be able to develop a treatment approach that might offer these patients some hope of a cure," Dr. Kenneth De Santes said, a doctor with the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

The risk was high.

Days after, a disease attacked Colton's liver.

He and his mom were forced to fly to a Children's Hospital in Denver to receive experimental medication, hoping to treat an experimental transplant.

Colton and Tara were in Denver for two months.

Throughout the summer, long hospital stays in Madison have become routine.

"Can you tell my dad to go home and get my toy animal so he can bring them here?" Colton said to his mom during a recent stay in Madison.

The leg pain during that visit concerned Colton's doctors.

Two weeks ago test results brought grave concern, too.

"Now he's got disease in his feet, his left knee, left upper leg," Tara said. "His right knee and right upper leg, his whole entire spine, his right and left upper arms, and his right upper lung. So he's got a little bit in his lung and his pelvis also."

The cancer is growing fast and spreading.

Doctors say they hope Colton makes it until Christmas.

"It basically means that there's no other option for us," Tara said. "We can try oral chemo to try to slow down the progression. We can try radiation to stop the growth in his right knee to try to stop it from spreading so much, but really there's no other option."

Doctors hope to have 10 patients total for the clinical trial.

So far they've seen varying effects -- good progress in some patients, others with unexpected complications like Colton -- but doctors say that's the nature of these trials and how science progresses.

In the two weeks since Colton's latest news, he's created his own bucket list.

Now hundreds and even thousands of people across the country are trying to make his list a reality.

We'll have that part of Colton's story Wednesday on Action 2 News at 6 and 10.

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