Leo had just started sixth grade when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). He had always enjoyed making small origami paper airplanes and ninja stars with his friends at school, but the delicate art would soon become a therapeutic escape from his sometimes difficult cancer treatments.
After diagnosis, Leo withdrew from school and was enrolled into a homebound learning program. While on chemo, he took steroid medications that made him extra irritable and emotional. He had some tough days, says his mom Margaret.
“Having ‘school time’ at home offered a necessary and nice way for Leo to get his mind off chemotherapy treatment and focus on his academic goals,” says Margaret. “He also got deeper into origami as a way to stay busy and distracted during his down time, which was often when he was at home and not feeling well enough to go outside. He would make a goal for himself to master a particular fold or design.”
“Chemo made me feel unfocused,” says Leo, “and origami helped me to center my mind. Sometimes I do get a little frustrated with my pieces and crush and throw them. I am always happy to finish my projects because it gives me a sense of accomplishment.”
Finding a Silver Lining
Leo’s treatment continues, and he will undergo maintenance chemotherapy until January 2018. His favorite subjects in school are math and science, and he dreams of becoming a scientist or working in the medical field. Of his disease, he and his family try to focus on the silver lining.
“Leo is easy going and happy, and he loves to smile,” says Margaret. “We’ve met so many attentive and caring persons with stethoscopes, purple gloves, thermometers, crafts, board games, soft blankets, popsicles, gentle dogs and toy carts. Most of all, we’ve gotten to know many wonderful families with brave, brave kids. Leo happily participates in many Hungry Bunch activities and has developed special friendships with other oncology patients at the clinic and in the hospital.”
Being his primary caregiver, Margaret says she and Leo have developed an extra-special relationship since his diagnosis. “He has been so easy to love and care for,” she says. “We make each other laugh often and sometimes annoy one another. We have many ‘hug breaks’ where we stop whatever we are doing and share a hug. This really helps us both a lot. Sometimes I need hugs more than he does.”
Leo enjoys spreading joy through origami and says “I give pieces to fellow patients and others because I think they help people to smile. It’s a way for me to share something I love to do.”