Young cancer patient visits the president, inspires others to share his optimism
Posted Feb. 17, 2010
Jabril Malik Debrow could have had a Play Station 3, or taken a ride on a private airplane or met a movie star. When given a chance for a wish come true, however, the 10-year-old Fairfield boy had a better idea.
"I thought about it for a few days, and I decided I wanted meet Obama," he said. "I thought about how nice he seems, all the stuff he does, and how he is trying to help people and make the world a better place."
Thanks to the Make a Wish Foundation, Jabril got his wish in January. The trip, at first fraught with complications, was everything he had hoped for, including a chat with the president in the Oval Office, a few frames of bowling in the White House bowling alley, a gift of a presidential yo-yo and an introduction to a bomb-sniffing dog and secret serviceman.
Jabril returned home and wrote a story about his experiences to share with other people who might be facing their own cancer diagnosis and treatment. He gave the story to the doctors and nurses caring for him in the UC Davis Pediatric Cancer program.
"I wrote the story so that it could help other people who have cancer, so they can have a positive attitude so they won't get sad and cry -- or only cry for one day and then let it go -- and start being happy like it never happened," he said.
Jabril also brought his positive attitude to Arco Arena where he watched from his front-row seat as the Golden State Warriors took on the Kings. Members of the King's team took time out to visit with Jabril.
"For me and his dad, it's amazing how he keeps everyone's spirits going. Every once in a while, he gets sad, but he says you can't stay that way or you won't get better."
— Jennifer Debrow
Jabril was diagnosed in October of last year with a very rare, aggressive and difficult-to-treat kidney cancer called renal medullary carcinoma. His is one of about 140 cases in the world, and he is among just a handful of children with the disease.
What most people with the disease have in common is the sickle cell trait, a genetic predisposition for sickle cell anemia, a blood disorder that can cause a restriction of blood flow, resulting in pain and organ damage.
Jabril's only symptom was blood in his urine, which he noticed last May. A follow-up ultrasound test found an enlarged kidney, which is common in children with the sickle cell trait. Only later was he referred to doctors at UC Davis, who performed additional tests and found a tumor on his kidney, which had spread to his liver and into his lungs.
Jabril's doctor, UC Davis pediatric oncology fellow Inessa Gofman, stressed that because the disease is extremely rare, the only time it might be considered as a possible diagnosis is if the patient has the sickle cell trait and frequently has blood in the urine.
Jabril, who says his only fears are "crocodiles, sharks and leopards," has since had surgery to remove the diseased kidney and has undergone two different chemotherapy regimens. The first treatment was not effective, but the second showed promising results.
"Before we started this, he had a really bad cough, shortness of breath and bone pain. He was losing weight and had no energy," said Gofman. "Now, his symptoms have resolved completely. He is full of energy, and is going to school."
Unfortunately, she said, a scan found that while his lungs were clear, the tumors on his liver had progressed. Last month, he began a third new chemotherapy treatment. Still he was undaunted, offering his nurse a toothy smile and unwavering optimism.
"I know I am getting better," he said, as the medicine began to flow through tubes and into his body at the pediatric infusion center. "I know my cancer is going away."
His positive attitude has been a source of comfort to everyone around him, said his mother, Jennifer.
"For me and his dad, it's amazing how he keeps everyone's spirits going," she said. "Every once in a while, he gets sad, but he says you can't stay that way or you won't get better."
UC Davis Cancer Center is a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center that cares for 9,000 adults and children with cancer each year from throughout the Central Valley and inland Northern California. Its Outreach Research and Education Program works to eliminate ethnic disparities in cancer region-wide.