Prayers for Anthony: Community rallies around sick youngster
RUSHMORE -- Like most rambunctious 4-year-olds, Anthony Bents likes to ride his bike, go fishing with his dad and can list off the names of various dinosaurs.
But one look at Anthony, and you know he isn't exactly like other kids his age. First of all, his head is bald -- and not because somebody gave him a really short buzz cut. There's also a tube going up his nose, the end snaking down the back of his shirt.
Anthony has cancer, and for the moment, his life is defined by that nasty six-letter word.
Born in Sioux City, Iowa, Anthony lived there the first part of his young life with his mother, Rochelle, and half sister Janaya. A year ago, in June 2010, Anthony's mom noticed that he had blood in his urine, so she took him to the hospital. He was airlifted to Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, where scans revealed two tumors in his right kidney.
The kidney was removed, and a biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of Wilms' tumor.
According to the Mayo Clinic website, "Wilms' tumor is a rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children. Also known as nephroblastoma, it's the most common malignant tumor of the kidneys in children. The peak time of Wilms' tumor occurrence is around ages 3 to 4, and it occurs only rarely after age 6."
Anthony's dad, Leon Bents of Rushmore, was driving truck and was in Oklahoma when he received the news that his son was sick.
"A week later (after the first surgery), he started radiation," said Leon. "They radiated his lower half, and then it was six months of chemotherapy."
In August, Anthony moved to Rushmore to live with his father, who was better equipped to take care of the sick boy's needs. But having full custody and Anthony's illness and treatment have prevented Leon from working. Living expenses and medical bills continue to mount.
"It's nice to have a vacation, but not a nine-month-long one where you can't do anything," said Leon wryly.
Leon was hopeful that he might be able to return to work shortly after the first of the year, but then scans revealed three more tumors on the right side of Anthony's lung. That meant another round of chemo and radiation at Sanford Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D.
"It was three days in the hospital for chemo, two weeks off, then see if the (blood counts) are good enough," to continue with the treatment, explained Leon.
Wilms' tumor is generally very treatable, Leon noted.
"It's supposed to be one of the easiest to eradicate within the first months," he said, shaking his head in frustration that the disease has progressed beyond those initial stages.
"I think surgery is almost a guarantee," Leon continued. "The scary one was he had a big tumor right next to his heart, and they were going to have to split him right down the middle to get to that. Now it's disappeared, so they think that was swollen lymph nodes. They were able to drain off fluid with a big needle, and now it doesn't show up on scans."
The disappearance of the large growth was good news, but there have been other complications during treatment. While Leon and Anthony were visiting grandparents Calvin and Sandy Bents at their home in the Detroit Lakes area in October, Anthony suffered an internal obstruction.
"Scar tissue clogged off his bowels so he couldn't go to the bathroom, so he had to have another surgery," Leon said. "Then he caught a bug somewhere and had a 101-, 102-degree fever."
Because Anthony's immune system has been severely compromised by the cancer treatments, any infection is a grave danger. Every little sneeze brings a wave of concern for Leon.
"We rarely go out anywhere," he said, explaining that he can't risk Anthony being exposed to children in a preschool or daycare setting. "We've gone fishing a couple of times, although we haven't caught anything yet. But wait until we do."
At 4 years old, Anthony can't fully comprehend his illness or why the treatments are necessary.
"Leon does an excellent job, explains everything to him," said grandmother Sandy Bents. "He knows he's got cancer, that he's got 'owies' inside of him."
"I think he should know what's going on," added Leon. "It's his life."
Most of the time, Anthony appears oblivious to the medical side of his life. Despite low blood counts, he seems to have boundless energy and plays happily with toys, watches favorite educational programs like "Dino Dan" and enjoys the love and affection lavished upon him by his father and extended family.
The cancer treatments haven't made Anthony nauseous, but he's fed through the tube in his nose because his appetite has diminished, and he also receives regular shots to boost his blood counts and prepare for what will likely be a necessary bone marrow transplant.
"He handles it so well," said Leon about the treatments and shots. "He screams when he goes through it, but he bounces back right away. ... He fights it every time, but it's because he has no control. He can choose to not eat or drink -- that's the one thing he can control. I don't know what a 4-year-old thinks. He can say, 'No, no, no,' but it doesn't mean anything, because it has to be done."
Anthony's most recent scans show the tumors on his lungs have shrunk slightly but are not completely gone. This week, Leon and Anthony were consulting with another doctor at the University of Minnesota in order to determine the next course of treatment.
The Bents family is hopeful that through the power of modern medicine and the many prayers that are being sent up on his behalf, Anthony will someday soon be a healthy little boy.
"I just think the good Lord is with him," said Sandy as she watched her grandson play on the floor. "He sees that he's a happy little kid and content where he's at."