SAN ANTONIO (WOAI/KABB) — A young San Antonio boy who's spent nearly two years fighting a rare form of cancer just reached a major milestone. Asher Cochran, 10, rang the bell at University Hospital this past Friday to celebrate being cancer-free.
"I'm done with my treatment," Asher said during a recent chat alongside his mom and older sister. "It made me really happy."
"It was that moment you're waiting for that says you're done," agreed Asher's mom Monica Cochran, a nurse case manager for trauma services at University Hospital. "You got through it. It's over. God is good."
Back on New Year's Eve 2018, Asher was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma. "It's a cancer of the muscles," Dr. Aaron Sugalski of UT Health San Antonio told us in March 2019. "Asher's (cancer) happens to be located in one of the muscles behind his (left) eye."
According to Dr. Sugalski, fewer than 400 pediatric patients a year are diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma in the U.S.
"Some of it can be very aggressive and very resistant to treatment," Monica said. "(But) most kids that end up with this specific type in that location (of their body) only need six months of chemotherapy, some rounds of radiation, and generally they are cleared." Asher ended up undergoing 20 months of chemotherapy.
After his first six months of treatment, doctors removed a bulk of the tumor behind his eye and performed a biopsy. "Turned out that the tumor was still over 70% active," Monica said. "They weren't expecting that." That meant Asher would need another eight months of treatment. But even then, after completing a total of 14 months of chemo, doctors added another six months. "I think he handled it better than most adults would."
All the while, Asher had the support of a team of superheroes at University Hospital known as Asher's Avengers.
As a big fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Asher would wear a shirt to his treatments every Tuesday that said, 'Fight Like an Avenger.' The shirt was the idea of Monica's co-worker at the hospital, respiratory therapist Iris Rogers. Soon Rogers got permission for hospital staff to also wear the shirts every Tuesday for Asher's visits.
"There are nurses (wearing the shirts), there are respiratory therapists, there are techs and doctors," Rogers said. "So, when Asher comes in on Tuesdays, he's walking in and he sees everybody with the shirts, and he's like, 'There's my shirt, there's another shirt. I see another shirt.'"
"It makes me encouraged to keep going on," Asher said.
"And even today, still, people are wearing the shirts," Monica added.
Asher completed his chemotherapy in mid-October, but Monica said his immunity level still wasn't where doctors wanted it to be, so he returned to have lab work done this past Friday. And that's when the Cochran family got the good news. "(The doctor) came in and was matter-of-fact and was like, 'He's clear. There's nothing showing. He's good.'"
"It feels really nice just to be able to see him be able to become a normal kid again," Asher's older sister Kyhlar said. "Seeing him ring the bell felt good."
Asher will have to return for MRI and CAT scans every three months for the next year to make sure nothing has returned. That'll be followed by another year or two of visits every six months and then yearly checkups after that. Still, he's just glad to finally put this chapter of his life behind him. "Mostly because I never really liked staying in the hospital," he said. "I would miss a bunch of school, and math is my favorite. I mean, that was kind of fun, but kind of not fun."
His advice to other children who are currently going through what he did?
"You're strong and brave," he said. "Keep on fighting no matter what, and always believe in yourself."
If you'd like to help Asher's family with medical expenses, you can donate to this GoFundMe page.