Local third-grade classmates are conquering cancer

Local third-grade classmates are conquering cancer Dexter Johnson and Philip Munkvold both appear to be victors in their battles with cancer this year. The two Vermillion boys, who attended the 1998-99 school year in the same second-grade classroom at Austin Elementary, have been able to conquer the disease and experience fairly normal, carefree lifestyles this summer before school begins once again. by David Lias March 17 wasn�t a cheery day for one of the second-grade classrooms at Austin Elementary School in Vermillion.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN diagnosed Philip Munkvold, son of Jane and Monty Munkvold of Vermillion, and a student in Joanne Bertram�s classroom, with cancer.

Just as Mrs. Bertram�s students were adjusting to Philip�s absence, they found themselves the victim of a cruel twist of fate.

In early May, as Philip was undergoing chemotherapy treatments, doctors at Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls discovered that another Austin Elementary student, Dexter Johnson, also had cancer.

Dexter is the son of Shannon Johnson and Jeannie Pickett of Vermillion.

Dexter, ironically, not only attended the same school as Philip, he, too, was a student in Mrs. Bertram�s classroom.

Classmates of the two boys have good things to look forward to when Vermillion�s new school year begins later this month.

Philip and Dexter are proving that cancer can�t keep good kids down. They both appear to be defeating the disease, to the delight of their parents, other family members and friends.

They�ll be back in a Jolley Elementary third-grade classroom on school�s opening day.

Not a happy birthday

March is usually a time to celebrate in the Munkvold family. Not this year, however.

�Philip was diagnosed March 17, on his dad�s birthday, which was really bad,� Jane said.

�I had my surgery on my dad�s birthday,� Philip said.

Doctors at the Mayo Clinic suspected that Philip could have tumors. Surgeons discovered and removed them, a biopsy was performed, and specialists concluded they were cancerous.

�It was diagnosed non-Hodgkins lymphoma,� Jane said. �There were tumors in his right leg.�

The Munkvolds began to suspect Philip was having problems earlier this year when they noticed that he began limping.

�It just got worse and worse. We watched it for about four weeks,� Jane said.

Philip first visited his family doctor in Vermillion. �He sent us to Sioux Falls, and the orthopedist in Sioux Falls sent us to Rochester.�

Philip�s stays in the hospital at Rochester usually lasted about a week each. He would then be allowed to come home for a short time before he had to return to the hospital once again.

�When he was first diagnosed, he was in for a week, then he got to come home for the weekend, and then he had to go back for the week again,� Jane said. �We probably made about eight or nine trips to Rochester since March.�

Strenuous treatment

Philip underwent one chemotherapy treatment in Rochester. Three additional chemotherapy treatments were administered in Sioux Falls.

�He went through four treatments, but each one was seven days long,� Jane said. �So he had 28 days of treatment in all.�

Philip�s odyssey with cancer officially began on his dad�s birthday. Ironically, a major benchmark in his treatment fell on Father�s Day.

�His last treatment was on Father�s Day,� Jane said. �After every treatment he had, he would get sick afterward. The actual treatment in the hospital wasn�t as bad as when he would get home. Usually, two days after he would get home, his blood count would start dropping so he would get sick. So he would be in the hospital a week, two weeks home being sick, and then be back in the hospital again.�

Philip would be in the hospital seven days, spend two weeks home being sick, and just when he�d start feeling better, he�d have to go back to the hospital again for treatments.

It appears that Philip has conquered his cancer, and he�s none the worse for wear. During last week�s heat wave, he joined the large flock of Vermillion kids that cooled off by taking a dip in the municipal swimming pool.

�Once he bounced back, you�d never know ?� Jane said. �He�s been having a great summer. He finished his last round of chemo on June 20, which was Father�s Day. A few days after that, his counts went way low.

�We went to Rochester the week of July 5, and he came back from that just great,� Jane added. �I talked to his doctor in Sioux Falls and told them I couldn�t believe this was the same kid. His stamina is back, his color is back and even his hair is growing back.�

Philip�s and Dexter�s parents are amazed by more than just their children�s successful battles with cancer. They find it hard to describe the level of community support they�ve received since Vermillion townsfolk learned of their children�s illnesses.

�For both of our families, the outpouring of support has been unbelievable,� Jane said, �both from individuals and from businesses.�

The employers of both families also were major sources of assistance, Jane added.

Dexter�s battle

Approximately two months before Philip was diagnosed with cancer, Shannon and Jeannie were growing concerned about health problems Dexter was suffering.

�Back in January, he began having headaches and would begin vomiting,� Shannon said. �Our doctor referred us to a specialist in Yankton, and he told us that Dexter�s problems could be from muscle tension.�

Shannon and Jeannie reasoned that Dexter would experience some relief from a chiropractic treatment.

�The chiropractor said to make sure that Dexter had an MRI, and it was a good thing he did,� Shannon said. The test showed that Dexter had a brain tumor.

Doctors at Sioux Valley Hospital concluded that Dexter has ependymoma, which is a form of brain cancer.

�He had two surgeries in one week,� Shannon said. �He had to go through 33 treatments of radiation.�

Jeannie has Dexter�s medical adventures well documented in a calendar. His first surgery was on May 7. Doctors operated again on May 14. He was able to go home on May 20, and began daily radiation treatments from June 2 to July 19.

Doctors don�t know yet whether Dexter�s cancer is in a state of remission. Jeannie and Shannon hope specialists may be able to determine that after Dexter undergoes another MRI test on Aug. 11.

Dexter�s tumor grew on his brain stem. Hopefully, the radiation has destroyed the cancer.

�This is a type of cancer that can reoccur,� Jeannie said. �It could be located anywhere on the central nervous system. That�s why it�s important to go in about every three months for check-ups.�

�I�m sure we�ll find out more when we go back for more tests,� Shannon said.

Jeannie and Shannon are optimistic that they will hear good news from doctors soon. They are grateful for the miracles of modern medicine, combined with the power of prayers provided by friends and loved ones.

Most of all, they are overjoyed that Dexter�s victorious battle with cancer has allowed him to continue to just be a typical Vermillion kid.

�He�s had a great summer,� Jeannie said.

Last week�s heat hardly seemed to phase him as he and his dad rode their bikes in Prentis Park. He just has to be careful to always wear a cap when going outside. The radiation treatment robbed him of his hair.

Dexter definitely seems to be on the mend, however. It seems to be a sure bet that he�ll be able to get rid of the cap soon.

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