For two Massachusetts kids battling leukemia at a pediatric cancer center, being cooped up on an isolation floor was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Shannon Curley and Zach Hare had both been diagnosed with leukemia when they met in early 2013 at the Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Diagnosis Center.
Zach, now 13, was just 10 when was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia called acute myelogeouns leukemia that would likely lead to relapse if he didn’t have a bone marrow transplant. Shannon, now 14, was diagnosed with a different form of leukemia that left her in the hospital for five months as she received treatment and eventually a bone marrow transplant.
Shannon’s mother, Carol Curley, said she was relieved when she realized her daughter had made a friend on the floor after spending weeks in near isolation in her hospital room due to complications.
“Just to have a peer for her was a huge thing,” Curley told ABC News. "She and I were in this 10-by-10 room for 24 hours a day. ... You want your kids to have something else while they’re in there.”
Zach celebrated his second year in remission last week -- a major milestone for his type of leukemia, which doctors say has a high rate of relapse.
Zach said he remembered watching games with Shannon and that she helped give him guidance about procedures or treatment she had already gone through.
"We would talk about what we were both going through and because she was there earlier she helped me out," he told ABC News.
Zach’s father, Mike Hare, told ABC News the pair didn’t seem to talk much about their condition but instead focused on their love of sports and both even wore their team’s attire in the hospital. He said they seemed to have similar reactions to going through their grueling cancer treatments.
“The fact that they both had the cancer look, bald, and neither of them really cared about it. They didn’t hide it, they were almost proud of the fact,” Hare said of the two kids’ similar personalities. “They quietly leaned on each other, [like] ‘I’m having a bad day but she’s doing ok.’”
Both children underwent a bone marrow transplant within a few weeks of each other, their parents said. After that procedure, their immune systems were completely wiped out, so they were unable to hang out face to face. However, Curley said the pair figured out ways to communicate even when in isolation rooms separate from each other.
“They would be knocking on the walls and on social media talking to each other,” explained Curley. “[We’d] wave through the windows as we went by.”
“I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve met so many amazing people and learned some important things,” Shannon told the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute website.
The pair’s competitive nature and love of sports also came out as they recovered from treatment, Curley recalled. Shannon was able to leave the hospital within five weeks of the having her bone marrow transplant, a speedy turnaround time for a serious operation. But Zach was hoping to beat her record.
“They’re both really competitive kids,” Curley said. “He texted her before he went in [for his bone marrow transplant], 'I’m getting out in 4 weeks.'”
Now back at home and in recovery, the pair have been in remission for two years and stay in touch over texts and emails.
Mike Hare said the pair are still able to pick up where they left off when they get to see each other and remembers a day at the hospital that epitomized their relationship where they recorded a dance party with goofy props from their hospital room.
“It’s one of those videos that you look at it and [these kids are] staring death down and having a blast doing it,” he said.