Teen beating cancer like a drum

Mike Ford
Posted 1/20/16

FLEMING ISLAND – Since Dujon “D.J.” Robertson was a toddler, he has been fighting cancer. He had a tumor surgically removed from his pituitary gland when he was three-years-old and spent the …

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Teen beating cancer like a drum


FLEMING ISLAND – Since Dujon “D.J.” Robertson was a toddler, he has been fighting cancer. He had a tumor surgically removed from his pituitary gland when he was three-years-old and spent the next few years undergoing chemotherapy.

In his short life, Robertson has endured being in foster care and then being adopted, and in junior high, he discovered the drums.

“I was tired all the time – it was a lot to go through. It was hard to go to school, but I still played drums in music class and in the band in junior high. Now, I go to Fleming Island High School and am in marching band, jazz band and Velocity, which is just percussions,” said Robertson who is now 15.

Many parents may try to steer their kids away from such a loud instrument, but Robertson’s mom relishes hearing her son play because it’s better than the alternative – even at midnight.

“There are moments when we’re like ‘is he really playing drums at midnight? I thought we were going to bed.’ But we’re grateful to hear his music because it’s better than not hearing it at all,” Joanne Robertson said.

Although Joanne Robertson – who works in the child welfare system – and her husband had a son, they had always planned on adopting. So, when D.J. Robertson’s case worker showed her his picture, she had to meet him.

“When we met him, he was seven-years-old and it was love at first sight. He was just finishing chemotherapy and was on the upswing. He was as healthy as a child with cancer can be and was going in for MRIs every three months. Then, it went to every six months and the first time they went to once a year, it was last year when he was 14 and it was a bad scan – the tumor had grown,” she said.

Healthcare technology had advanced since Robertson received chemotherapy and, this time, his doctors decided on proton therapy with daily treatment for two months. He finished it in July 2014 with the tumor still there. Robertson said the tumor is dormant and the doctors have labeled him cancer-free.

“I feel pretty good, now,” he said. “I take more naps, though.”

Because Robertson’s tumor is on his pituitary gland, it has affected his physical growth, making him short for his age. He was on growth hormone treatment prior to the tumor’s resurgence, but there is a question as to what role the treatment may have played in the tumor’s growth. So, going forward, the family isn’t sure which course of action to take and it’s not easy.

“It has been a roller coaster – you have a child who has now been cancer-free for a year and is very short. He’s 15, but looks like he’s 10. He’s four-foot, eight inches and is always being offered the kid’s menu at restaurants, Joanne said.

“So, there’s a question whether to do growth hormone or not and your child says ‘you know, I really want to do the growth hormone, but I want to live as long as I can, mom’ – that’s really hard. Having your 14-year-old child say ‘I want to live as long as I can’ isn’t something most people hear their child say.”

Throughout his cancer therapy, Robertson has been treated at Nemours, Wolfson Children’s Hospital and the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville. Wolfson Chidren’s Hospital will honor the teen this month during the festivities surrounding the Wolfson Children’s Challenge as one of the Wolfson 55. The slate of road races raises funds for the children’s hospital and includes family activities and entertainment, a 55K Ultra Marathon, a 55K Ultra Relay in which 11-member teams can participate, a 30K individual run and a 1-mile fun run at The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville on Jan. 30.

Each of the Wolfson 55 will be given medals, have their own tent at the event and their photos will be posted along the marathon route. To learn more about the race, go to wolfsonchildrenschallenge.org.


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