The blue-eyed infant had tumors in both of her eyes (bilateral retinoblastoma). In April 2008, at four-months of age, Jolene Sexton began treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. In addition to laser and cryotherapy, Jolene received 31 doses of IV chemotherapy as part of an experimental protocol to test the effectiveness of a new drug. As a parent, it was rough to watch the drugs wreaked havoc on her little system.
Currently, Jolene has no vision in one eye and five inactive tumors in the other eye. For a long time, we guessed at how much vision she actually had. However, there was no doubt about the first time that she saw the “Mickey Mouse boat” commercial on television – she wanted on that boat! Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Jolene got her wish.
A genetic variation discovered during treatment means that the threat of future cancer looms in the shadows for Jolene. However, at age 9, Jolene is doing fantastic! She is well above her grade level in school and never meets a stranger. She likes to read, draw, ride horses and will play rec-league softball for the first time this year.
Jolene’s vision remains limited and she has (at times) had bone density comparable to an elderly woman. When she was five years old, a seemingly minor fall from a horse resulted in a severely broken femur. However, she was back on a horse at first chance and is busy growing, learning and conquering any goal that is set in front of her. Her recent Science Fair project earned her a trip to the regional fair and was called. “Is Smiling Really Contagious?” You may or may not have been one of her research subjects as she unwittingly smiled at you in local stores (and secretly recorded your response).
She would like to become a teacher one day – don’t bet against her!