As the very first patient featured on the cover of Cart Wheels 10 years ago, Nolan Roberts is an example of the hope and miracles that are performed at Norton Children’s Hospital every day.
At just 15 months old, Nolan was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of cancerous tumor that had developed on one of his kidneys. Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in infancy and accounts for approximately 650 new cases of childhood cancer diagnosed each year in the United States.
Nolan’s parents, Dana and Will Roberts, were told by the oncology team at Norton Children’s Hospital that their son had only a 35 percent chance of surviving. That was in 2000, but they persevered. Nolan went through a rigorous course of chemotherapy treatments, radiation and stem cell apheresis.
Unfortunately, these treatments weren’t able to kill the tumor, so the doctors and oncology staff resorted to surgery to remove the mass.
After surgery, the next course of treatment was for Nolan to undergo two bone marrow transplants, known as a tandem transplant. By performing the transplants back-to-back, Nolan’s survival rate bounced up to 50 percent, according to Salvatore J. Bertolone, M.D., Nolan’s oncologist at Norton Children’s Hospital and U of L Physicians – Pediatric Cancer & Blood Diseases
“Nolan was the first patient at Norton Children’s Hospital to have a tandem transplant,” Dr. Bertolone said. “Because neuroblastoma is such an aggressive form of cancer, I wanted to make sure we fought it just as aggressively.”
“I don’t remember a whole lot during my time at Norton Children’s Hospital,” Nolan said. “I do remember riding along in the red wagon and making laps in it around 7 West.”
Nolan’s mom, Dana, vividly remembers her experience leading up to her son’s diagnosis.
“Cancer is not really on your radar as a parent,” she said. “When we learned about Nolan’s diagnosis, I think many of us in the family thought he was going to die. Our lesson was to never quit having faith.
“We had so much great family support and good relationships with the doctors and nurses at Norton Children’s Hospital. Caring for children is more than just the hospital staff’s job — it affects them just as much as it does the parents. They treated and cared for Nolan just as our family would have.”
Though Nolan has been in remission for years, he still visits the oncology clinic each year for checkups with Alexandra C. Cheerva, M.D., a pediatric oncologist/hematologist at Norton Children’s Hospital and U of L Physicians – Pediatric Cancer & Blood Diseases.
“We also get to see Dr. Bertolone from time to time and there are always hugs that go along with that,” Dana said.
Nolan is an avid track runner, particularly running hurdles, and has taken up Brazilian jiu-jitsu over the past several years. He likes to model his life by a quote from Benjamin Disraeli: “Through perseverance, many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure.”