Wishes Do Come True

A young patient battling cancer for the second time inspires his medical team to give him a gift he'll never forget

Keanan Richardson has experienced more hardship in his 11 years than most people face in a lifetime. And he's handled it with more courage and positivity than one would think possible. When Keanan was 8 years old, he was diagnosed with spindle cell carcinoma, a type of cancer named for its shape – the cells are long and spindle-like – that begins in the skin or in tissues within or around internal organs. Keanan underwent successful treatment of the cancer, including several surgeries, at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center.

He had been cancer-free for a couple of months when tragedy struck – his mother was murdered right in front of him. Keanan and his siblings – a sister and two brothers – went to live with their grandfather, Cedric Richardson, and his wife, Renee, in Frederick, Maryland. Three years passed when, in February of 2013, Keanan noticed an unusual bump on his leg. His primary care doctor didn't know what it was, so Renee took him back to University of Maryland Medical Center, where doctors diagnosed him with rhabdomyosarcoma, or RMS, a type of cancer that forms in the soft tissues of the skeletal muscles, which control voluntary movements.

"Cedric and I were shocked when we heard he had cancer again," says Renee. "The doctors asked him if he remembered how he had beaten his last cancer. They said they'd get him through it this time, too."

RMS is a rare form of cancer – there are only about 350 pediatric cases diagnosed each year in the United States – and Keanan's diagnosis is completely unrelated to the cancer he had already beaten. Treatment has involved radiation, which he completed in June, and ongoing chemotherapy until December 19th.

Keanan comes to the Greenebaum Cancer Center every Friday for his chemotherapy, and every 21 days he stays overnight for an extended infusion. In spite of the toll the treatment takes on his body, "Keanan is always up. He never complains about coming for his treatment and is always so positive," says Renee. "My sister is battling breast cancer right now and knows how hard it is. She says Keanan is her hero."

Keanan's Magic Castle Wish

Like many boys his age, Keanan loves music and wants to be a recording artist one day. His favorite singers are from the hip hop and R&B group TLC, whose hits like "Waterfalls" and "Baby-Baby-Baby" topped the music charts in the 1990s.

Knowing this, the staff in the University of Maryland's Department of Radiation Oncology worked together to give Keanan, a boy who had touched their hearts, an experience he'd never forget.

The Department of Radiation Oncology has a program, called the Magic Castle, to help encourage young cancer patients through the radiation therapy process. At the start of treatment, patients write three wishes on a slip of paper and place it inside the Magic Castle – a toy castle in the waiting room – and, at the end of treatment, they are granted one wish.

When he completed his final radiation treatment, Keanan received a Best Buy gift card from the Magic Castle, and, as a special treat, a visit to The Sheffield Institute for the Recording Arts, a production studio in Baltimore County. Keanan got to hold one of the dozen or so gold records hanging on the studio walls, and sang two TLC songs in the recording studio. He knew all the words and even some of the dance moves from the videos.

"Were you nervous, Keanan?" his grandfather asked, as he left the studio after recording the songs.

"Yeah," he replied.

"It's all right. It was your first time," Cedric said.

Meeting his Idols

As if a personal visit to the recording studio weren't enough, the radiation oncology team took Keanan's Magic Castle wish a step further. Through Facebook, they connected with TLC's manager and set up a Skype visit for Keanan with the band's two surviving members, Rozonda "Chill" Thomas and Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins.

On August 15, in the middle of one of his overnight treatments, Keanan's grandfather pushed him in a wheelchair into a conference room, where Chilli was waiting for him on the screen of a laptop. She had Skyped in from Atlanta, and, about 10 minutes later, T-Boz joined from California.

Keanan spoke with them about their songs and families. At one point, with his chemo line still in place, he stood up and sang and danced for them, with Chilli singing back-up.

"You're just the cutest thing ever," Chilli said.

"I know," Keanan replied, and everyone laughed.

"You really warm my heart. That you love my group, that means a lot," Chilli said. Keanan told Chilli that she was his favorite.

The singers promised to send him a signed DVD of their CrazySexyCool movie, which he has watched many times. They're coming to Baltimore on tour next year and want him to come to the concert so they can meet him in person.

A Lasting Impression

Keanan has won the hearts of the staff of the Greenebaum Cancer Center, including his doctors.

"Keanan is one of the bravest kids I have ever known," says his radiation oncologist Young Kwok, MD, associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and radiation oncologist at the cancer center. "To have faced that much adversity and yet continue to live life to the fullest is astounding and truly inspirational."

Keanan's medical oncologist, Teresa York, MD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and pediatric oncologist, feels the same.

"Keanan has been an inspiration to me and our whole team. He has faced each battle with cancer fearlessly. He has gone through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation for two different types of cancer, which, in itself, is a true testimony to his spirit," says Dr. York. "We all hold a special place in our hearts for him and his family. I am honored to be part of the team to help him beat cancer again!"

You can help make a child's wish come true by supporting the UM Radiation Oncology Magic Castle program. Donate today.