Mt. Pleasant, Iowa

Imagine beating cancer not once, but four times.

Now imagine beating cancer four times before the age of 12.

That’s what Flynn Lanferman has faced.

When Flynn turned 3, his parents, Deana and Jeremy, noticed he was sleeping frequently. He also exhibited strange bruising and had unexplained fevers. At first, the Lanfermans’ local doctor wrote off his symptoms as a virus. But when Flynn had a four-hour nosebleed one night, he underwent a blood test the following day.

The test results arrived, and Deana was told an ambulance was waiting to take Flynn to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. There, the Lanfermans received news no parent wants to hear: Flynn was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-growing cancer that affects the bone marrow and white blood cells.

“I just remember being stunned,” says Deana. “After all the gamut of emotions, the end emotion is, ‘This is it. We’re going to stand up, we’re going to fight, and we’re going to win.’”

Flynn underwent three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy treatment with few problems. Treatment ended in May 2011, and he began monthly blood tests to monitor his cell counts. In November 2011, one of Flynn’s tests revealed his cancer had returned.

“It doesn’t get easier,” says Deana. “You didn’t want him to go through it the first time. You do not want your child to go through it a second time. It broke our hearts.”

Flynn underwent four months of treatment, and his care team introduced the idea of a bone marrow transplant.

“I said, ‘Why wouldn’t we be able to just do chemo again?’” Deana recalls. “Flynn’s doctor replied, ‘Because he wouldn’t live through it.’”

Flynn’s diseased bone marrow needed to be replaced with new marrow to produce healthy blood cells, so he underwent a transplant in March 2012.

For the next two years, Flynn visited the hospital for checkups but learned in May 2015 that he wasn’t done fighting—he had relapsed for a second time. Again, he underwent chemotherapy and prepared for a stem cell transplant that July. Another relapse, his third, came just 10 months after his transplant. The news was devastating.

“You can always hope that it’s not cancer, but in our case, it always is,” says Deana. “When [his nurses] found out Flynn had relapsed again, they all got together and cried.”

This time, Flynn’s father donated his bone marrow for the transplant in September 2016.

“This was my first experience of being put to sleep and having an operation,” says Jeremy. “[Flynn’s] probably done it 20 times. You get those feelings, firsthand, of what he deals with.”

The Lanfermans are grateful to Flynn’s UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital care team for all they’ve done for their son.

“The support we’ve gotten from the staff over the last nine years has been amazing,” Deana says. “We wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.”

Throughout his journey, Flynn has maintained a positive attitude. He has advice for others facing a similar diagnosis.

“Everything is going to be all right,” says Flynn. “Be brave and battle this cancer until it’s gone.”