Manila youth fighting battle against cancer

Wednesday, January 9, 2002

Jesse Ham, eight-year-old son of T.J. and Jackie Ham, of Manila, is accustomed to needles, chemotherapy and radiation treatments as he has been fighting leukemia most of his life.

Jesse was diagnosed with cancer when he was 18 months old and has been a patient at St. Jude's Medical Research Hospital in Memphis.

"St. Jude has taken great care of him," his father said.

Jesse has been having treatments at least once a week for the past two years since his cancer relapsed in November of 1999.

Jesse and his mother went to St. Jude on the Thursday before Christmas. It was to be his last treatment and the family had plans to celebrate. When they arrived at St. Jude, the news the Ham family received was not good.

Mr. Ham said they were told that he had a bone marrow relapse and the cancer was in 97 percent of his bone marrow. St. Jude had done all they could do to help him and there were no treatments left there.

"We were told about a hospital in Houston, Texas, that is using experimental drugs that might help Jesse. The drugs are strong and cannot be shipped; he would have to be taken there for treatment," Mr. Ham said.

Jesse has fought hard throughout his life, and Houston seemed to be his only option. St. Jude provided the airline tickets for Jesse and his mother and they flew to Texas on Christmas evening.

Jesse is now an outpatient at the Houston Hospital where his mother takes him every day for treatments. He started treatments on Thursday, Dec. 27.

The two are staying in the Medical Center Visitor's Lodge. They pay $56 a night to stay in the room and the family is responsible for their food and transportation. There is a Ronald McDonald's House in the area, but it is filled. The lodging is cheaper than the area motels, but it is still expensive on the family.

Mrs. Ham said the medicine is strong and makes Jesse sick after the treatments. He received platelets on Thursday of last week. She said tests are scheduled for Jan. 14 to see if the drug is working for him.

Mr. Ham is a truck driver and could not be in Texas with his wife and son during the treatments.

"The bills continue and we have to pay our health insurance. I wish I could be there with them, but I have to work," Mr. Ham said.

Mrs. Ham quit work when Jesse was first diagnosed so she could care for him and be available to take him back and forth to St. Jude for treatments.

Jesse will be in Texas for at least 21 days. It will take that long to see if the drugs are working. If they do work, he will be there for up to six weeks of treatments and then back to St. Jude for treatments.

As anyone with a child that is fighting for life knows, the experience is emotionally draining on the family.

"I've always been able to take care of the family. At St. Jude we had no worries. They take what the insurance pays, but this has been difficult," Mr. Ham said. "We need a miracle and we hope this new drug is it."

Jesse is in the first grade at Manila Elementary School. He has two older sisters that also attend Manila School. He is the grandson of Jorena Ham of Leachville.

"Jesse is a fighter and he is tough. He has been through a lot. We were told that this drug has a 50 percent chance of helping him," Mr. Ham said.

If anyone would like to help with the expenses that the Ham family is having to meet during Jesse's treatments in Texas, an account has been set up at the First National Bank under the name of Jesse Ham Donations.

The family asks that everyone continue praying for Jesse.

He hopes to be home with his family and back at school with his friends in the future.

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