BOSTON (CBS) - Just before Allison Schablein's fifth birthday, she was diagnosed with brain cancer. Seven metastatic, malignant gliomas. Doctors could only remove one of them.
Allison received chemotherapy. But it didn't stop the cancer from growing. "She started with a terrible tumor in the worst circumstance," says Dr. Mark Kieran, Director of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology at Dana Farber Cancer Institute.
Fortunately, new technology allowed Dr. Kieran and the doctors at both Dana Farber and Boston Children's Hospital to do a molecular profile of the single tumor they had removed. Incredibly, they discovered that Allison's cancer had a mutation also found in some skin cancer patients—specifically adults with melanoma. And for those adult patients, there was actually a highly successful drug, Dabrafenib.
Dr. Kieran and his team wanted to know—could the drug work on a child with brain cancer? No child had ever taken it. And there was only one way to find out. Allison would have to become the only child in a clinical trial.
There was no way to know whether it would work. And in fact, doctors didn't even know what dose to give Allison. It was a frightening decision for her parents, Dan Schablein and Michelle Moscardini. "Obviously, we want the best for our kids," Dan Schablein said. "We want new. We want cutting edge. But it's also a really tough decision to be first."
Dan explained, there were many questions doctors simply couldn't answer. The answers would come from Allison if she began taking the drug.
Eight weeks later, in the summer of 2013, the answer was overwhelming.
Scans on Allison's brain showed that all six tumors were gone. Her MRI was clear. Dan and Michelle had hoped for the best. But they could never have imagined such a remarkable outcome. "We were, like, what? What do you mean gone? We were speechless."
That was almost three years ago.
Allison and her family visit Dana Farber once a month for a check up. She has an MRI every three months. She is happy, healthy and, her doctors say, a pioneer. "It is so positive for us to see a child like this," Dr. Kieran told WBZ's Lisa Hughes. "We understood the biology. We understood the drug. But we had never combined the two together. Allison's really the one that's led that battle…We've learned so much from her by virtue of the way she's responded."
Allison, now a second grader in Derry, NH, is making big plans. She loves art and hopes to become an art teacher someday. She also wants two dogs—a husky and a poodle. She and her old sister, Brianna have enjoyed trips to Disney World with their parents. And Allison is becoming a great gymnast.
While it's always a little frightening to return to the hospital, Michelle and Dan say they are grateful to the doctors, nurses and staff at Dana Farber who saved Allison and supported them as a family.
Michelle thinks of Allison's future with happiness and pride. "She is an amazing girl. She's going to grow up…and she's gonna change the world."
She is already helping to change the outcome for other young brain cancer patients. Because of her doctors' discovery—and her family's willingness to take a risk—at least 100 other children are now taking the same drug that saved Allison.
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