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Rare cancer strikes young Flathead girl

Posted at 6:37 PM, Jun 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-15 20:37:40-04

KALISPELL – It’s a parent’s worst nightmare.

Tina Tobiason and her husband Nicholas Tobiason noticed strange bruises on their 4-year-old daughter Kensley in May.

“They weren’t regular bruises, and they were spread out all over her body, and when I would feel the bruises, they would have little notches on them. And it was just very bizarre,” Tina said.

Thinking it just may be normal growing pains, or kids playing rough at school, Tina called Kensley’s school teacher to ask if the kids were roughhousing during the day.

When Kensley’s teacher said no, Tina and Nick took Kensley to the doctor’s office, and after a variety of tests, they received a diagnosis they never thought they’d hear in a million years.

“Looking at the test results from earlier in the day, they had come to the same conclusion … and said we don’t necessarily want to alarm you, but we think we’re dealing with cancer,” explained Nicholas.

Kensley was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), a cancer that’s rarely found in children.

She says that CML differs from other cancers by the genetic marker found on the patient’s white blood cells. MTN News spoke with Dr. Carrie LaBorde from Kalispell Regional Medical Center, who said CML is found in only 3% of all pediatric cancers, adding there are less than 500 cases in the country per year.

“And they said chronic myelogenous leukemia, and I was just like ‘Wow.’ My heart just sank. How could this happen to us?” Tina recalled.

With the shocking news, Kensley and Tina flew to Colorado for more tests, leaving the Tobiason’s two other children at home.

“Now, I’ve got be ‘Mr. Mom’ all at the same time,” Nicholas said.

Thankfully, Kensley’s cancer can be treated locally in Kalispell with an oral pill. Tina dissolves Kensley’s medication in apple juice so it’s easier for her to swallow.

Kensley is responding well to treatment with white blood cell counts returning to normal.

Tina said that when Kensley was first diagnosed, her white blood cell count was near 500,000 with the normal amount hovering around 12,000. Kensley’s current white blood cell count hovers around 9,000.

It’s not the end of the road yet for Kensley, as the rare pediatric cancer doesn’t have a clear long-term treatment plan.

Dr. LaBorde told MTN News that there are studies being conducted across the country to see how long this oral treatment plan lasts and if Kensley could eventually stop taking the medication.

Doctors will continue to monitor Kensley’s health, but for now, she’s on the road to remission.

A GoFundMe campaign has been established to offset some of the Tobiason’s cost while Kensley continues treatment.

-Reported by Maren Siu/MTN News