Dance Marathon: A patient’s big imagination


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Eden Levetzow’s favorite hiding place is behind a dark brown leather armchair in the corner of the living room. But if her parents call for her, she can’t resist giggling and replying, “I’m here.”

The red-haired little girl will turn 3 in April. And she has a big imagination.

Eden drags her “camera” into the living room to take a picture of her parents. It doesn’t matter to her that the camera is actually a lamp, and she pretends to push a button at the end of the cord to take the photo.

“Can I take a smile?” she likes to ask.

Her imagination keeps her upbeat, even during monthly hospital visits. But she doesn’t know differently. For months, she made weekly trips with her parents from their Washington, Iowa, home to the UI Children’s Hospital.

Drugs, nurses, and the port in her chest have been a presence for more than half her life.

“Eden, what do we do here?” mother Selena Levetzow asked her when they were sitting in an exam room at the hospital.

“We get rid of cancer,” Eden replied.

Eden was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Jan. 14, 2009, when she was just 1. It is a cancer of the white blood cells — those that normally fight infections.

“We were devastated,” Levetzow said.

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But Eden’s treatment has gone well so far. Two days after her diagnosis, surgeons inserted a port into her chest to deliver chemotherapy more efficiently to her bloodstream. Twenty-one days later, the cancer was in clinical remission.

“I got the phone call in my office. I started yelling,” said father Kurt Levetzow. He paused. “It was a good day.”

Eden has only been hospitalized once since the diagnosis, but her parents still worry.

Infections often occur in those with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of cancer in children. Bottles of hand sanitizer are scattered throughout the house.

Eden still hasn’t been inside a department store, and she only recently began going to daycare (with one other child) and playing with friends — but only if the other kids are healthy.

She’s now in a maintenance phase — going to the hospital once a month and taking medications at home. If all goes well, she’ll be done with treatment in 2011.

Five days after her own last hospital visit, Eden brought out a stuffed duck and doctor’s kit. The Levetzows call the toy “chemo duck.” It is dressed in hospital garb and even has a port in its chest, just like the one Eden had no qualms about showing off. She grabbed a syringe from the case and attached it to the port to give the duck chemo.

The last year has changed the family’s perspective, both parents agreed.

“We shifted our mindset to we don’t have to work 65 hours a week, and the house can be messy,” Selena Levetzow said. “All we care about is that she’s OK.”

Eden climbs all over her father, then runs across the room and slaps a balloon that plays “Jingle Bells.” Wearing a brown jumper with brown and white striped tights, she starts dancing, spinning in circles in the middle of the room.

Over and over, she restarts the song and spins, until she’s so dizzy she falls into her father’s arms.

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