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A 9-year-old's fight with leukemia

April 23, 1997

It began in December of last year, when the schools were closed for the Christmas holidays. Bradley Palmer, a 9-year-old fourth grader who attends Bester Elementary School, was making a turn at the Starland roller rink when he fell, complaining of severe back pain.

His parents thought it was a sprain, so they took him to Washington County Hospital's emergency room, where his mom, Kim Palmer, said the physicians told her to take him home, because there was no fracture.

But Bradley's pain didn't let up.

"We couldn't get him (to get) off the couch," Palmer said.

More tests were done, and two days after Christmas, his parents heard what no parent wants to hear - their child had leukemia.

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"The reason he had back pain was because his bones were thinning," Palmer said.

The family turned to the University of Maryland Cancer Center in Baltimore, where officials began a regimen of chemotherapy they hoped would bring the cancer under control. But for Bradley, the treatment has been almost as bad as the illness.

He's had the most severe side effects associated with chemotherapy, including seizures, the loss of his hair and vomiting.

"He doesn't handle chemotherapy very well. He threw up for a week-and-a-half straight," Palmer said, adding that the boy hasn't eaten solid food for four months, relying instead on a liquid nutritional formula the family feeds him through an intravenous shunt surgically implanted in his body.

But the good news is that after four months of treatment, Bradley is in remission. It will be a slow road back to full health, however.

"He's doing real well now. He doesn't talk much. He keeps it all inside. But really, he's had two good days in the past four months," she said.

The family does have insurance - Blue Cross and Blue Shield - that has covered most of the actual medical expenses. It's the medicine and the incidentals that have made it tough.

"We do have a co-pay (on prescriptions), and I haven't counted the bottles lately, but at one time, he had 25 different kinds of medicine," she said, adding that she's lost two weeks of work running back and forth to the hospital in Baltimore.

"I know there's at least two other families going through this leukemia, and I've heard there's at least 12 in the area. I've asked why we couldn't just go the Marsh Center (Washington County's cancer-treatment facility on Robinwood Drive) and they say it's because it's not designed for children. But if they (the sick children) even have a 100 or so temperature we have to go all the way to Baltimore," she said.

The distance means that the Palmers must do much of Bradley's care on their own, including changing IV needles at home, and Bradley says she and her husband are staying with Bradley `round-the-clock to make sure everything's all right. She wonders, she says, what happens to children whose parents aren't up to the task, for one reason or another.

Getting a cancer-treatment facility for children here is a long-term project. In the meantime, if you'd like to help the Palmers cope with their expenses - medicine and the bills they run up traveling back and forth to Baltimore - come to the Bester Elementary School on Potomac Street this Saturday morning where there'll be a combination yard and bake sale.

Don't worry if it rains, Palmer said, because the event is going to be inside, rain or shine. There's lots of donated items, and you'd like to bring something else by, call the school at (301) 766-8001, or just bring stuff by Saturday. And make it good stuff, because the good volunteers putting this on - Dianna Sprecher, Susan Keefer and Brenda Hitt - have enough to do without hauling your old junk to the landfill.

And if you'd like to send this brave little guy a get-well card, send it to, Bradley Palmer, c/o Bob Maginnis, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, Md., 21740. I'll forward everything I get, and update readers on what's happening in future editions of this column.

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