Moments after Jacob "Jake" Boddie woke from surgery to remove a tumor in his pelvis, his father, Kyle Boddie, said to his 2-year old son, "Hey, Jake, bust a move!" Although he was still groggy, the toddler smiled. One tiny shoulder, then the other, wiggled in time to a beat.
Kyle and Jake's mother, Ashley McIntyre, say Jake started dancing long before he could walk. "And now that's all he does," Kyle said. "He loves it. You can't stop him."
During his yearlong treatment for a rare cancer, Jake danced with his nurses, child life specialists and doctors at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital. He boogied in his hospital room, in the hallways, and even on the way to the operating room. His parents say dance helped Jake recover from his treatments and surgery. It helped them cope with their son's illness.
"Even though Jake went through so much, he uplifted us," Ashley said. "We thought, if he can have fun through all of this, why can't we?"
Kyle and Ashley knew something was wrong when Jake wasn't acting like himself at a Fourth of July picnic in 2013. Agitated and restless, the toddler wasn't his "silly self" and refused to dance or play with the other children. A few days later he began limping. An ultrasound performed in the emergency room at Comer Children's Hospital showed a large mass resting in the lower part of his abdomen and reaching into his pelvis.
A biopsy revealed the mass to be a sarcoma, a fast-growing cancer. "The tumor was 4 inches in diameter, about the size of a small grapefruit," said pediatric oncologist Navin Pinto, MD, an expert on sarcoma treatment. In addition to his clinical work, Pinto leads a personalized medicine initiative at Comer Children's Hospital that is sequencing the genetic makeup of pediatric tumors from every patient to help guide treatment.
For Jake, several rounds of chemotherapy were needed to shrink the tumor to half its original size. It was then small enough to be removed, but Jake's surgery would be complicated. The tumor was wrapped around critical blood vessels as well as the right ureter, a tube that brings urine from the kidney to the bladder.
On the morning of the surgery in January 2014, Ashley and Kyle danced with Jake to the song "Happy" as they headed toward the operating room doors; there they turned him over to the surgical team. "Jake knew something was going on," Ashley recalled, "but I think it made him feel better to see us laughing and dancing."
Pediatric urologist Mohan Gundeti, MD, and pediatric surgeon Grace Mak, MD, worked together in the surgical suite. First, Gundeti used an endoscopic approach, placing a stent in the ureter to mark its location and keep the fragile tube open. Mak then surgically removed as much of the tumor as possible, meticulously separating it from the vessels and ureter while avoiding nearby nerves.
"Jacob recovered beautifully and bounced back quickly after the operation," Mak said, adding, "he was eating -- and doing his moves -- a few days later."
Completing Jake's treatment required both chemotherapy and radiation to eliminate any lingering cancer cells. In addition, the lower section of the right ureter had narrowed, leading to pressure on the right kidney, and needed attention before it became completely obstructed.
Gundeti performed reconstructive surgery, moving the right kidney down a few centimeters and making a new tube for the ureter using a flap from the bladder. Again, Jake recovered quickly from an extensive surgery.
Today, the 3-year-old visits Comer Children's Hospital regularly for follow-up care with the nurses and doctors who cared for him.
"He feels comfortable at the hospital; he's always laughing and having a good time," Kyle said. "Everyone knows him now. And everyone dances with him."