The Fight Against Childhood Cancer: A Conversation with Supermama, Sally Steele
Author: Tina Rajani 1
September’s Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is a time to shine the light on the realities of childhood cancer, emphasize the importance of life-saving research, and join together to make a difference for children & families diagnosed. The situation is urgent – incidence rates are rising, and cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease for children. That’s why Tiny Sprouts Foods is joining the fight. On Wednesday, September 27, 2023, we’re pleased to share that 20% of all sales on our website [www.tinysproutsfoods.com] will be donated to CURE Childhood Cancer.
CURE invests millions in critical research that will lead to safer and more effective cures/treatments for children. Since its inception, CURE Kids has raised more than $2.5 million to further our efforts to conquer childhood cancer.
To learn more about the first-hand effects of childhood cancer, we sat down with Sally Steele, mama to 18-month-old Austin, who was diagnosed with an Optic Pathway Glioma (brain tumor) earlier this year. We first connected with Sally on her Facebook page (Austin’s Army) where she was posting about our boosters and the positive difference they are making on Austin’s health.
Please continue reading and show your support, whether that’s through ordering your fave Tiny Sprouts Organic Superseed Boosters on September 27, 2023, donating or simply sharing Austin’s story. We truly believe that we can make a meaningful impact in the fight against childhood cancer.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and Austin.
SS: I’m Sally, mama to Austin - the sweetest most affectionate child I’ve ever met. He loves music and dancing! I also have a 10-year-old son, Ethan, and two step-children – Samantha and Max. We live in Georgia and pre-diagnosis, we were a pretty typical family with both parents working and kids in daycare and school.
When Austin was only 9-months old, we noticed a slight eye flickering and brought it up to our pediatrician. She wasn’t overly concerned but she did refer him to an ophthalmologist. The ophthalmologist saw him a few days later and sent us immediately to the emergency room where our worst nightmare became our reality. The doctor told us there was a large mass in Austin’s brain and that it was inoperable due to the mid-brain location of the tumor near the optic nerves and the hypothalamus and brain stem.
Austin’s vision has be impacted due to optic nerve damage. We are actively trying to stop him from going blind by controlling tumor growth. There’s also a good chance that he will need speech and occupational therapy, as well as physical therapy at some point in the near future. Chemo will absolutely have lifelong repercussions for Austin, as is the case with most children undergoing chemotherapy.
Which treatments are Austin currently undergoing and what are the side effects?
SS: Austin started chemotherapy in February of 2023. He did ten weeks of induction chemo where he received chemo every week with no breaks. After the ten weeks, he started maintenance chemo where he now receives chemo every week for 4 weeks and then has a 2-week recovery period. He is taking Carboplatin and Vincristine, which are two fairly common adult chemotherapies. Due to a lack of funding and research - there are very few targeted cancer therapies for children, so most kids are on treatments designed for adults but in lower doses.
Carboplatin interferes with the growth of cancer cells but unfortunately it also interferes with normal cells. This chemotherapy affects Austin’s blood counts, which is why they do four weeks on and two weeks off. Austin’s white blood cell counts plummet over the four weeks to where he has no ability to fight infections which is very scary.
Vincristine stops cells from dividing into new cells. It causes peripheral neuropathy, which can be permanent. Neuropathy is nerve damage that can cause tingling, numbness and pain in the hands and feet. Vincristine also causes severe constipation!
To manage all the side effects of chemo, Austin takes quite a few medications: one for nausea, antibiotics to stop him from getting pneumonia and Pepcid for reflux. Austin was also on laxatives and stool softeners for the chemo-induced constipation. The laxatives helped a bit, but he was always so uncomfortable. We just kept having to increase the meds and he was still only pooping every other day or so and it was an ordeal every time. His little body simply isn’t meant to consume so much medication.
Childhood cancer effects the whole family. Can you please share some of the changes that you’ve incorporated into your life and Austin’s daily routine as his primary caregiver?
SS: Childhood cancer is devastating for the whole family. Our older children are troopers…they aren’t getting the attention and love they deserve either with so much focus and concern on Austin. We can’t have visitors very often, we try and stay away from crowded places, our kids can’t really have birthday parties at home. Some weeks are tougher than others.
We were never an "unhealthy" family, but we were a normal family that ate processed foods for convenience. I started slowly replacing all of Austin’s food with organic, clean and/or mostly plant-based homemade meals. I researched the vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes and spices that would help his immune system, improve gut health, fight inflammation and free radicals, and possibly help slow or stop tumor growth. Spices and seeds are incredibly important for this and they’ve been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. Once I saw how awesome Austin was doing with all his new foods, I started incorporating the changes into my diet and my husband quickly jumped on board! We both lost over 15lbs pretty quickly without even trying. The whole family is eating better than ever before.
We connected over Facebook when you were actively posting about our boosters and sharing with other mamas. We appreciate that so much! How have they helped in your journey thus far?
SS: I give SO much credit for a lot of my family’s lifestyle changes to Tiny Sprouts. Tiny Sprouts started something in me that I can’t even describe, and it sounds dramatic but it’s true. I research new foods, spices and seeds every week now. I’m always trying to find ways to help with Austin’s side effects and his tumor growth! Worst case scenario - he’s eating a super healthy diet. Best case scenario - the tumor shrinks. Maybe it shrinks due to the chemo. Maybe it shrinks due to the diet. Maybe a complementary therapy using both chemo and nutrition is key. I do think more people are getting on board with this idea.
My first order was in May 2023. I started off slow because they were new, but I would add some into his oatmeal and smoothies at breakfast, and into his fruit pouches for lunch and dinner. By July, he was off all stool softeners and laxatives, and we haven’t used them since! He poops every single day and it’s perfectly normal and not painful for him!
Once I noticed the Tiny Sprouts flax and chia seeds working, I did some more research on the hemp seeds. I was astonished to find out how much nutrition they have in them! We were already using them along with the flax and chia seeds, but my research on the hemp seeds is really what got me thinking about how to use food for his chemo side effects and ultimately for the tumor itself. They tell you that there is not much that can alter the chemo-induced low blood counts, which is true to an extent. There’s nothing I can feed him that will directly increase his red or white blood cells BUT so many foods have immune boosting nutrients including nuts, seeds, spices and legumes.
We’re believers that food is medicine and that every bite can either help fight or feed disease. Is this something that you believe in as well?
SS: I believe we all need to be super mindful about what we are feeding our children - with or without cancer.
Nutrition should 100% be part of every cancer treatment. At the very least, Austin is off his laxatives and stool softeners. He’s healthier. He’s happier. He’s gaining weight. He’s a typical toddler! I also think his immune system is stronger since overhauling his diet.
And an update on Austin's tumor. The first MRI after the initial diagnosis was in April 2023 before our diet changes and the tumor was stable, which is really good news. No growth is always a win with brain tumors! The second MRI was in July 2023 after many of our diet changes and the tumor had shrunk substantially! He has his third MRI in October, so please send prayers and good vibes for stability or shrinkage of the tumor. No one will ever understand how absolutely terrifying these scans are. The love and worry we have for our babies is immeasurable.
As readers are eager to get involved, especially during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, how else can they take action and contribute to childhood cancer patients and families in a meaningful way?
SS: Childhood cancer research only receives 4% of the national cancer research budget. Childhood cancer is not rare - 1 out of every 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer by the time they are 20. 1 out of 5 children with cancer will die. Brain tumors are the deadliest form of childhood cancer. You never really think it can happen to you - but it happened to us, and it can happen to anyone. Most childhood cancer research is privately funded through charities and foundations, which is why we try so hard to increase awareness and raise money. Any donation, big or small, is very meaningful. Sharing our story is also an easy way to help spread awareness of this important cause.