Reana packs a punch: Karate kid fights leukemia

Reana Tentis, 10, and her mother Jennifer look at a strand of her courage beads Friday, February 3, 2012 in her room at Mayo Eugenio Litta Children's Hospital. Reana recently began a second round of chemotherapy to treat leukemia. Each bead represents a procedure or milestone in her cancer treatment.

Ten-year-old Rochester student Reana Tentis isn't defined by cancer.

Rather, she does kid things, despite chemotherapy, fevers, infections, isolation in HEPA-filtered hospital rooms and barriers made by gloves and protective gowns health providers must wear.

Reana has been living at Mayo Eugenio Litta Children's Hospital in Rochester almost constantly since she was diagnosed with AML (acute myelogenous leukemia) on Oct. 25, 2011.

"It makes me crazy that I can't see my friends — just adults," Reana said.

"Yes she is a child, but she is a child living in an adult world fighting a cancer that is largely found in adults" her mother, Jennifer Tentis, says on Reana's CaringBridge site.


The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society says leukemia is a cancer of the blood, and of the marrow, where new blood cells normally form.

A mutation happens in a developing marrow cell, which multiplies into many that "survive better than normal cells and crowd out healthy cells."

Tentis said Reana's type of AML relates to the genetic makeup of chromosomes 8 and 16. The treatment goal is to restore her own, normal blood-cell production.

It's a long road. As recently as last week, Reana felt ill again and doctors worried about a new infection.

"We've been turned upside down," her mother said. She worries because their home is not infection-safe for when Reana finally gets to return home in late summer.

She'll complete chemotherapy to free her body of leukemic cells. She's dealt with spinal taps, surgery for a "port line" to her heart so medicine can be delivered rapidly, appendix removal and, last week, fever-induced shaking.

During a visit to the Post-Bulletin two weeks ago, Reana said AML is "OK," but you "kind of get sick from it, pretty tired." 

"It's kind of like having the flu," her mom said.


"Except life-threatening," Reana added.

Reana must be cautious on the days when she feels like eating, because some foods, like grapes and strawberries, can carry mold spores or bacteria that might make her sick. During her first three weeks in the hospital, Reana lost 14 pounds. That made her mom desperate enough for a fast-food run.

"I said, 'I need whatever burger you have that has the most calories in it,'" Tentis said. She wanted to entice Reana's hunger in whatever way possible.

Days include breakfast, if possible, homework to keep up with school, lunch and tutoring.

Reana said she busies herself with Monopoly, music therapy and Art by the Bedside. This is much different from her time outside the hospital. She's considering cheerleading and already is an avid swimmer, ice skater, Girl Scout and karate practitioner. 

"She can break boards with the palm of her hand — and she does scare me sometimes," Tentis said. With that same spirit, she fights leukemia with her mother, family, friends and acquaintances.

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