Cancer Took Joshua’s Leg, But Not His Smile

To save little Joshua Adler’s life, doctors amputated his leg.

You can't help but be captivated by Joshua Adler's smile. "The kid smiles all the time," Joshua's dad, Dave Adler, tells us. "He's a pretty inspirational little boy." After hearing Joshua's story, we can't help but agree.

That story began early last year, when Joshua began experiencing pain in his right leg. The pain was sometimes so severe that he'd wake up at night "screaming in agony," reports WQOW-TV in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Doctors told Dave and his wife, Pat, that their son, just 4 years old at the time, was likely experiencing normal growing pains.

But this past July, Joshua's pain became so intense that the family made two trips to their local emergency department in one day. That prompted doctors to send Joshua by ambulance to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, where an MRI revealed what X-rays hadn't: a mass on Joshua's right femur above his knee. The Adlers would learn that Joshua had cancer. "It was a pretty big shock," Dave tells us of the diagnosis. Additional testing revealed that the cancer, a primitive neuroectodermal tumor, had spread to the lymph nodes behind Joshua's knee.

A team of doctors at Mayo — including cancer specialists Vilmarie Rodriguez, M.D., and Carola Arndt, M.D., and orthopedic surgeon Peter Rose, M.D. — came up with a plan to try and kill the cancer with chemotherapy. "We told Joshua he had an owie, and we had to get it out of his body," Dave says. But after six rounds of treatment, the mass remained. To save Joshua's life, doctors would need to amputate his leg. Hearing that "was like getting the diagnosis all over again," Dave tells us. He worried about Joshua's future, and how his little boy would adapt to life with just one leg. "I wondered if he'd ever be able to play and climb around again," Dave says.

Within a week of surgery, Joshua seemed to answer that question. "He had surgery on a Tuesday, and on Saturday afternoon he grabbed the bars over his bed and stood up," Dave says. A month later, Joshua was using a walker and wheelchair, and "scooting all over," Dave tells us. "That little boy teaches me every day." When Joshua's incision heals, he'll be fitted for a prosthetic leg.

Dave says the family's difficult journey has been made easier by the friends, family and even strangers who have prayed for them, given them gift and gas cards, and even sent presents to Joshua and his younger brother, Elijah. Some of Dave's employees even set up a GoFundMe campaign to help the family with its mounting medical expenses. That generosity and support has been overwhelming, Dave says. "Thank you is not enough," he tells us. "I can't put into words the gratitude we feel for all that everyone has done for us."

Including the staff at Mayo Clinic, who recently gave the family the best gift of all: a post-surgery report indicating that "all visible evidence of cancer is out of Joshua's body," Dave tells us. To be sure there are no cancer cells lurking behind, Joshua will have eight more rounds of chemotherapy at Mayo. But that's just where the Adlers want to be. "We feel so fortunate and blessed to have access to these world-class physicians and to the wonderful nurses and other staff," Dave says. "Mayo Clinic has a reputation for a reason."

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