Family hopeful CJ's cancer saga is nearing its end

Christmas came in October for Casimer Joseph "CJ" Banaszek IV, when his third bone marrow transplant finally proved successful. The brave 13-year-old Petaluman isn't out of the woods yet, but his family is optimistic his two-year battle with Chronic Myelogenus Leukemia is nearing its end.

"I think the big picture is very good and uplifting and hopeful," said his mom, Heather Banaszek, on Dec. 20. "He won't be home for Christmas, but that's fine. We'll do Christmas next year."

CJ hasn't been home since July 8, when he was admitted to the Benioff Children's Hospital at the University of California, San Francisco to undergo his second bone marrow transplant.

Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow, and a transplant is needed to replace the infected marrow with cells from a healthy matching donor, thus ridding the body of cancer. In some cases, the body rejects the donor cells, which happened after CJ's first bone marrow transplant in 2012 — and ultimately, his second transplant in July.

"All of the sudden it just wasn't there, all of that (donor) bone marrow just disappeared," Heather said.

But, as doctors searched CJ's cells, they found residue from the first donor's marrow, a sign the procedure wasn't a complete failure. Doctors reached out to the original donor, a man in Germany, who agreed to donate more bone marrow for CJ. On Oct. 11, one week before his 13th birthday, CJ again had his body pumped with healthy cells. So far, his body has not rejected this transplant.

"There's no leukemia they can see," Heather said hopefully, adding that the family is cautiously optimistic. "We don't make a big deal out of it and say he's cancer-free after all we've been through."

CJ has remained in isolation at the hospital because his severely weakened immune system makes him highly susceptible to any infection. He was supposed to be discharged Dec. 2, but he developed a severe infection that required emergency surgery, setting back his recovery by weeks.

"He needs more time to heal," Heather said. "He's really quite amazing, he just handles it."

She said while her son remains in isolation, he isn't alone. His mother or father spends every night with him, and he is surrounded by faces of the many people who love him.

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