Toy tractors and chemotherapy - normal part of life for Garfield 4-year-old
Austin Baune is a typical 4-year-old boy who loves tractors and skid loaders and playing in the dirt.
He's curious and busy and talkative and loves the outdoors.
But there are things about Austin that are different from other boys his age. He tires easily, his feet sometimes don't work properly, and he knows how to flush a medical port.
Austin suffers from acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
His parents, Tony and Molly Baune of Garfield, noticed him limping the week prior to Memorial Day. Thinking he may have fractured his foot or done something similar, they took him to the clinic that Thursday.
After X-rays and a blood test revealed nothing, they returned home. Two days later all of his lymph nodes were swollen.
They took him back to the clinic the following Tuesday, and the family was immediately sent to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. The next day, Austin was diagnosed with ALL.
LAUGHTER AMID THE TEARS
The next few days were a mixture of emotions for the Baunes, as they learned what the diagnosis would mean for their son and what the treatments would involve.
Austin reminded them early on, however that even though he has ALL, he is still a typical 4-year-old boy.
He was scheduled for surgery to have a port inserted. A patient cannot eat during the hours leading up to the surgery. Because Austin's surgery wasn't scheduled until 4 p.m., the parents had their hands full trying to keep his mind off his growling tummy.
Since he wasn't allowed any food, he eventually tried to satiate his appetite by eating Play Doh.
"They said he was the first kid they knew of at the hospital to have the surgery changed for that reason!" Molly said with a laugh.
The port was inserted the next day, and Austin began chemotherapy treatments.
After six days in the hospital, he went home.
A NEW 'NORMAL'
Since his initial hospital stay, Austin has returned to Children's Clinic every seven to 10 days for chemotherapy treatments.
He receives chemotherapy three ways - through the port, via spinal taps and with oral medication given at home.
"The goal with ALL is to be in remission in one month after starting treatments, and he was," Molly said.
"Now the purpose of the chemo is to kill any stragglers that might be hiding in his body," Tony added.
The summer proved to be a whirlwind of treatments and education and adjusting to a new "normal" for the family.
Austin's big sister, Elly, has also been impacted by the diagnosis. The 7-year-old is a 1st grader at Garfield Elementary School.
"She doesn't understand everything that's going on and it's been a struggle at times," Molly said. "Keeping her involved in the process is very important."
She added that her daughter - an animal lover - is especially upset that Austin's condition means no animals.
"She also doesn't like that Austin gets all the gifts," Tony added. "When he was in the hospital he got so many that he thought it was Christmas. Elly had a hard time with that."
Because of the timing of Austin's hospitalization, Molly and Tony also missed their daughter's final week of kindergarten.
"Family and friends took care of her during that time," Molly said. "They threw her a graduation party. That was huge and we were so appreciative."
Tony has been employed at Douglas Machine in Alexandria for the past eight years. Molly is an independent jewelry consultant with Premier Designs, which allows her to be home with the kids.
"We're so fortunate for that," she said. "Austin couldn't be in daycare now, and with all the trips to the Cities for treatments, this works out well."
Austin attends preschool at Zion Lutheran School in Alexandria two days a week.
"We try to keep the routine as normal as possible," Molly explained. "I gauge his blood counts and how he's feeling to determine if he should stay home."
"If we're concerned, we watch it," Tony said, "but you can't live in a bubble."
Austin has not had any other hospital stays since the initial diagnosis.
The steroids he took in the first couple of months caused him to gain about 12 pounds, but he is now back to his normal stature.
"He did have one ER visit in July when he was running a temp," Molly said. "Other than that he's done very well."
He has suffered some side effects of the chemotherapy, including neuropathy in his feet - nerve damage that results in loss of movement, sensation or other function of the nerves.
He wears orthotic braces to help prevent long-term physical damage and has physical therapy to get the proper range of motion back.
To make the braces a bit more appealing, Austin was allowed to choose the colors and designs he wanted. He chose blue ones with construction equipment on them.
Molly said his voice also gets hoarse four days after treatment and that sometimes his fine motor skills get weak.
The treatment plan for ALL is about three years. The first six to eight months involve the regimen that Austin is currently on.
His chemo drug is now being changed, which could result in hair loss. Doctors have also told the parents that October and November could be difficult months for Austin, as his counts could run low, making him susceptible to some additional problems.
"We've been preparing ourselves mentally for that," Molly said. "Since day one I've had the suitcase packed so I could just go if I needed to, but so far we haven't needed to!"
She added that Austin handles his medical appointments well.
"He knows the whole drill and doesn't mind going," she said. "They let him help clean his port. It helps that they let him be involved like that."
If all goes according to plan, Austin will be switched to the maintenance phase of treatment in January and will only get a chemotherapy treatment once a month for the remainder of the three years. He will continue getting a home medication every day through that period as well.
Upon completion of that phase, according to Tony, they should have "a healthy child who can live cancer free."
"He's just done so well this far that it's hard to think it can go any other way," Molly said.
Benefit to be held
A benefit will be held for the Baune family on Saturday, October 15 from 4 to 7 p.m. at Berea Lutheran Church, 1405 6th Avenue East in Alexandria. It includes a barbecue dinner and desserts, as well as a silent auction and children's games.
Donations can also be made payable to Austin Baune Benefit and sent to Viking Savings Bank, 1311 Broadway, P.O. Box 966, Alexandria, MN 56308.
Proceeds will help defray travel, housing and medical expenses not covered by insurance. Supplemental funding has been applied for from the Douglas County Thrivent Chapter.
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL)
Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is a type of cancer of the blood and bone marrow - the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made.
The word "acute" comes from the fact that the disease progresses rapidly and affects immature blood cells, rather than mature ones.
"Lymphocytic" refers to the white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are affected with this disease. ALL is also known as acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute childhood leukemia.
ALL is the most common type of cancer in children; treatments result in a good chance for a cure. ALL can also occur in adults.