The Professional Patient and Only Five Years Old

By Susan Gnann

Eli Leingang is just your typical 5-year-old boy. However, since being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia months before his second birthday, he has had over 4 years of cancer treatment with another year and 3 months to go. He has ultimately become a “professional patient”. Still, he is “ornery” according to his mom, Noelle Leingang, yet knows how to pull at her heartstrings while driving his older sister Emerson “crazy”

Eli has had an impact on his Dayton children’s oncologist, Dr. Mukund Dole, too. Dr. Dole says at each appointment, “Eli, how’s my best friend”. Dr. Dole went on to say, “Eli has been a great patient, and one who the entire team here has bonded with.

Shortly after he was diagnosed, the family learned that Eli qualified for a wish through the Dayton Chapter of A Special Wish Foundation. They had a hard time arriving at a decision because, remembered Brian, “Our true wish was that none of this would be happening.” And, when they asked Eli what he wanted more than anything in the world, Eli replied, “Pancakes.” Of course.

Since he was so young when first diagnosed, the family waited to submit his wish so that he could be a part of the decision and complete his cancer treatments, which happened in November, 2014. Unfortunately, two months later, Eli’s cancer came back and his wish trip had to wait.

“Every little thing becomes a new worry,” said Brian. “There is no escape from it and you really have to have vigilance on behalf of your child.” It was this vigilance and Noelle’s intuition that led to the initial diagnosis and the discovery that Eli’s cancer had returned.

The family has such gratitude for Dr. Dole. “He worked so hard to get the right treatment after Eil’s relapse,” recalled Noelle. Eli has been regularly seeing his oncologist for more than half of his life now, so the Eli has an ease with Dr. Dole and the entire staff at Dayton Children’s hospital.

“Numbers are so cold, “remembered Brian when talking about the survival rates for this type of cancer. So, the family keeps to their new normal and “keeps blinders on” to focus on the present and live somewhat normally, especially for Eli’s siblings who feel the pain of missing their brother when he has long hospital stays. Cancer affects the entire family.

Many people have been involved in helping Eli’s wish become a reality. Groups from Edison State Community College, where Brian works, and Northmont Schools, where Noelle works, and many individuals have contributed to ASW.

“It feels so good to be cared for by the community and to know how much your family means to people,” recalled Brian. “There are days where we get to see what Eli is teaching us. Most of the time, it is just gratefulness for who we have in our lives. We have gotten to know so many great people and to experience so much kindness.”

This includes other members of the “unenviable club” of fellow cancer patients and families. Their journey with other families has helped the family immensely.

All set to go to Walt Disney World and stay at Give Kids The World Village, Eli and his family are hoping to get a reprieve from the worry of cancer, to be among other families similar to theirs and enjoy being all together after so much time apart.

“We don't know what to expect, but we know it will be amazing!” said Brian. Eli lost so much of his childhood due to cancer and the whole family is excited that he can feel the joy of the “happiest place on earth”.