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Growing up, despite cancer

Parker Hysick in his Pittsburgh Steelers-themed man cave, a gift from Make a Wish Central New York. (PHOTOS BY SUSAN KAHN)

Parker Hysick in his Pittsburgh Steelers-themed "man cave," a gift from Make a Wish Central New York. (PHOTOS BY SUSAN KAHN)


The Hysicks of Baldwinsville got a puppy in November 2012, and their son Parker played with her constantly. So when Parker developed bruises, his mom and dad thought they were from roughhousing. When Parker began having nosebleeds, they attributed them to the temperature change.

But then Melissa Hysick noticed something about her 7-year-old son. “He doesn‘t look right,” she said to her husband, Ron. They made an appointment with the pediatrician. That was a Tuesday. Two days later, Sean O‘Malley, MD, called. Parker had leukemia.

Hysick fell to her knees. She heard Parker say to his sister, Madi: “Mommy‘s crying. I think someone died.”

The next morning, Hysick met "a pair of angels," as she describes Andrea Dvorak, MD, and nurse Yvonne Dolce, who lead Parker‘s care at the Upstate Golisano Children‘s Hospital.

Pediatric oncologist Andrea Dvorak, MD, with Parker at the Upstate Cancer Center. She is in charge of his care at Upstate.

Pediatric oncologist Andrea Dvorak, MD, with Parker at the Upstate Cancer Center. She is in charge of his care at Upstate.

“I‘ve always felt like Dr. Andy and Yvonne were chosen specifically for us. They‘re so good with Parker. They genuinely care about him,” Hysick says. She is an occupational therapist in the Syracuse City Schools. Ron Hysick is a physical education teacher in Baldwinsville.

Parker‘s hospital stay was punctuated by moments Hysick will never forget. Her skinny son, with intravenous tubing attached to his body, stepped from the bathroom holding onto a hospital pole. The doctor had just told him about losing his hair. Now he was alone with his mom. “Mommy, why are you letting them do this to me?”

It broke her heart.

“Buddy, if I could take you away and hide you from this cancer, I would do that,” Hysick told him. “Right now, we are going to have to fight really hard and be really strong so that you can grow up.”

Parker was hospitalized until the day before Thanksgiving. His parents were blown away by coworkers and family and neighbors who provided a Thanksgiving spread, and then meals continually while Parker was in treatment for the year, for acute lymphoblastic leukemia. That‘s a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that usually gets worse quickly if it‘s not treated.

Every Friday Parker was at the Upstate Cancer Center for chemotherapy, sometimes for a few hours and sometimes for all day.

This March marks one year since Parker‘s active treatment ended. His condition is monitored with monthly blood work now. It‘s a scary time, Hysick explains, watching the results, wondering if the cancer is back.

She marvels at her son‘s disposition. “He‘s this awesome kid who never complains.”

When Make a Wish Central New York offered to grant Parker a wish, the youngster didn‘t hesitate. Martin Custom Homes delivered on his request by turning the Hysick basement into a Pittsburgh Steelers themed “man cave.”

Parker is now 11 and in fifth grade. As his mother encouraged during his first hospital stay four years ago, Parker is growing up.


What is leukemia

Leukemias are blood cancers that start in the cells of the bone marrow and can, over time, crowd out or suppress the development of normal cells. Survival rates for childhood cancers have improved significantly over the past 50 years.

Cancer Care winter 2017 coverThis article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Cancer Care magazine.