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Visiting London

Doctors won’t settle for ‘standard’ with young cancer patient

London Dally, 16 months, and her parents, Susan Ratti and Ben Dally.
London Dally, 16 months, and her parents, Susan Ratti and Ben Dally.Read moreSARAH J. GLOVER / Staff Photographer

London Dally walks around Children's Hospital's fourth-floor oncology ward like she owns the joint. It's where she walked on her own for the first time.

Since she was diagnosed in November with a childhood cancer known as alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS), London has come to Children's Hospital at least once a week for treatment, often staying for days.

Her mother, Susan Ratti, sleeps in London's room, often inside the crib with her - although Ratti acknowledges that calling it sleep is generous. Even when the nurses offer to relieve her, Ratti declines.

"There's nothing better in the world than the way that London loves me," Ratti said. "That's what gets me through every day."

She will leave her daughter's side only when London's father, Ratti's husband, Ben Dally, can make the commute from Pen Argyl, near the Poconos. He makes the trip every other day whenever London is at Children's Hospital for more than one night.

In the wee hours when Ratti is not asleep, she fills out insurance forms and other paperwork and does research on ARMS, a cancer that affects certain muscles. London's tumor is on her neck and shoulder muscles, making it inoperable. There is a good chance that one arm will have to be amputated to fight her disease.

The overall cure rate for this type of childhood cancer is about 70 percent, but Dr. John Maris, chief of oncology at Children's Hospital, said the position of London's tumor makes her case difficult.

"London has about a 25 percent survival probability, but that number is with the standard approach, and that's not acceptable," Maris said. "She's not getting the standard approach."

On the day of our visit, London was on her third day of a six-day admission, cruising the halls with the tubes to her IV-treatment bags poking out from the top V of her denim overall dress.

One of the side effects of London's chemo is a stuffy nose that London does not yet know how to clear. Her solution is to scrunch her nose. Ratti and Dally plan to make T-shirts emblazoned with a photo of London's pinched face that say, "Cancer stinks."   - Molly Eichel