Jaden’s Road to Recovery
When her 8-year-old son was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, Lei Zhang found support through OSI and her Houston community.

“I was holding on to the 10% hope that this was not osteosarcoma.”

Lei Zhang

For Lei Zhang, a researcher and mother of two young boys, life in her hometown of Houston was as one might expect: play dates with neighbors, after-school activities, baseball games and piano lessons. A happy, normal life. Until April 30, 2021, when Lei and her family’s world was turned upside down. 

Her youngest son, Jaden, who turned 8 this year, began complaining of pain in his right shoulder. Lei assumed he was just experiencing some muscle soreness from his many baseball games. Jaden, who is a bit of a daredevil, stays very active — he plays Division I baseball in his age group, loves to swim, and goes on bike rides with his neighborhood friends. 

A few days went by, but Jaden still complained of pain in his right shoulder. 

“He could still play piano and write with his right arm, but he couldn’t lift it up past a certain point,” Lei recalls. And when Jaden didn’t want to go to one of his baseball tournaments, Lei became concerned. “He’s a competitive, athletic kid, and that just wasn’t like him.”

Jaden, 7, osteosarcoma

Holding On to Hope

On Monday morning, Lei took Jaden to see his primary care doctor, who agreed that it was a bit odd that he still had pain after so many days. She ordered X-rays and told Lei she’d call her with the results. 

That evening, Lei got the disturbing news: Jaden’s doctor was 90% sure it was osteosarcoma. To Lei, it was like someone ripped the rug out from underneath her. 

“I had never heard that word before,” she admits. “No one in our family has had cancer. It was shocking. I didn’t know which direction to go.”

Jaden’s doctor referred them to Texas Children’s Hospital, where he could get more tests done, including an MRI and a biopsy. Frantic, Lei read everything she could about this rare cancer to try and understand what this meant for her son. 

“I was holding on to the 10% hope that this was not osteosarcoma,” says Lei. 

But by Wednesday, April 30, the biopsy confirmed what she feared: Jaden was diagnosed with osteoblastic osteosarcoma. The next several months involved many rounds of chemotherapy and surgery at MD Anderson to remove Jaden’s right humerus bone and replace it with his right fibula (part of the leg bone).

“We are heartbroken to see him suffering, but we feel comfort and assurance that the treatment is working,” says Lei, who tries to stay positive. “A cancer diagnosis is just very scary — whether it’s curable or not. We still have a long way to go with the treatment, but we are hopeful that he will be cured.”

Welcoming Support

Through it all, the Zhangs’ close-knit community and Jaden’s baseball team have been a godsend, helping to shuttle Lei’s older son to after-school activities, sending food, and gifting Jaden with books and toys to help distract him from the fact that, since his immune system is compromised from chemotherapy, he can no longer participate in baseball practice or play outside with his friends. The baseball team even bestowed upon Jaden a knitted, handmade Wishing Blanket, offering their prayers and support. 

“It was really touching,” says Lei. “I’m so grateful that when we needed comforting, our community supported us.” 

While Lei admits she is still very new to this process, she has learned that she can’t cope alone and reaching out for support is vital. 

“I encourage other parents to seek out as much information as possible,” she says, adding that organizations like OSI and other local support groups have been hugely helpful along the way. “Just try to live day by day, and stay hopeful that one day, life will go back to normal.”


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