MELROSE — When he’s not at the Jimmy Fund Clinic being treated for leukemia, 3-year-old Casey O’Donohoe fancies himself something of a chef.
“One waffle coming right up,” he said, while digging through a box of plastic toys. “Strawberries or bananas?”
Casey’s playfulness was tested after he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in December. But nine months later, Katy and Conor O’Donohoe say their son has stayed strong — so much so, he’s looking forward to taking part in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk.
“You forgot to say ‘Walk Hero,’” Casey told his mom, sounding every bit like a superhero.
On Sunday, Casey and his family, which includes newborn sister, Anna, will walk the 5K portion of the annual event, which raises money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. This year’s walk will be the first to be held in-person since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
As a Walk Hero, Casey will be honored with a placard along the route, complete with his picture and a quote — “Leukemia is no match for me.”
“He’s owned it,” Conor O’Donohoe said. “We never lied to him. From the get-go, we told him, ‘This is what’s going on, your blood has a disease.’ He knows that everything he’s doing is to get better.”
The family named their walk team, “Mayor Casey’s Crew,” a nod to the tyke’s infectious personality.
“You can talk to anybody at the hospital, whether they’re janitors, doctors, nurses — whoever it is, they will talk about him,” Conor O’Donohoe said. “That’s just how he is. He brings smiles to people’s faces.”
Casey’s resilience has inspired others to support their fund-raising team. They set a goal of raising $5,000, but they so far have raised nearly double that amount.
“We thought we could aim for $5,000 — $1,000 each [between our family and two others] — and see what we can do,” Katy O’Donohoe said. “Then we had eight of his teachers from his day care join, and they put it out to the community. They’ve been fantastic, super supportive.”
His parents admire the strength of Casey and other children treated at the Jimmy Fund Clinic.
“He was [at the clinic] for six hours today,” Katy O’Donohoe said on Wednesday. “That’s a lot to put on kids who are 1, 2, 3 years old.”
Even with Casey being in remission since January, the treatment has taken an exhausting toll on them.
“When you think of cancer, you think of chemotherapy and radiation and things like that,” she said. “But there are so many other things that go into it. We’ve spoken with physical therapists, with nutritionists, with psychologists. You don’t think of your 3-year-old potentially needing to speak to a psychologist, with the effects that steroid [treatments] have on his mood and his body.”
That’s why the family is so thankful for the resources of the Jimmy Fund Clinic.
“I remember my first day walking into the clinic and seeing a person leaving,” Conor O’Donohoe said. “Today, we’re one year in. I saw a family coming in with tears. It was obviously their first time in there. And no one looks at a [long treatment plan] and says, ‘We can do that.’ But [then] you look at it and see that there’s an end to it, that there is a chance that they’ll get better.”
Katy O’Donohoe said her family is “very fortunate” to be so close to the renowned pediatric cancer clinic.
“There are people who travel from other countries to have access to those resources — and it’s 10 miles away from us,” she said.