Copelyn faced cancer twice as a baby. Now she’s enjoying a cancer-free childhood – princess parties, playdates and all.

Child Health, News | one month ago

Helping Copelyn Face Cancer for a Second Time

Copelyn faced cancer twice as a baby. Now she’s enjoying a cancer-free childhood – princess parties, playdates and all.

There’s always a lot to do when you move to a new town. But when your baby has cancer, you’re not just looking for new daycares and meeting new neighbors – you’re in search of the best pediatric oncologists to continue your child’s care.

Fortunately for Christina Rogers and Ashley Flemings – who moved to Charlotte in February of 2021 – their new city is home to Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Hospital, the only children’s hospital in the region to offer top pediatric cancer care and lifesaving treatments that their daughter needed. With care like that so close to home, Christina and Ashley were exactly where they needed to be to keep their daughter’s cancer in remission – and to fight it when it came back.  

Facing cancer for a second time

Copelyn was first diagnosed with cancer at 10 months old. “We took her to the doctor because she was sick – we thought it was allergies,” Christina recalls. After a blood test revealed that Copelyn’s white blood cell count was nearly 30 times the healthy range, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

By the time Copelyn arrived at Atrium Health Levine Children’s, she’d already undergone chemotherapy and a blood and marrow transplant. Because she was in remission, her initial care here included follow-up visits and holistic therapies to keep the cancer away. But when her cancer returned after nine months in remission, her pediatric oncology team changed course to help her fight the disease for a second time.

Except this time, in addition to chemotherapy, Copelyn would get an innovative cancer treatment called CAR T-cell therapy, a cellular therapy that would supercharge her immune system and use her own cells to fight the cancer.

CAR T-cell therapy is a treatment so new, it’s only available at a handful of cancer centers across the country – and Levine Children’s Hospital was the first to offer it in the Charlotte region. “CAR T-cell therapy is a team sport. It requires a lot of people and multidisciplinary expertise you’re not going to find everywhere,” explains Joel Kaplan, DO. Dr. Kaplan is one of Copelyn’s pediatric oncologists at Atrium Health Levine Children’s.

The treatment takes several weeks and starts by removing the patient’s T-cells, which are immune cells that help your body fight disease. The T-cells are sent to a lab, where a special protein called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) is attached to them, turning them into cancer-destroying CAR T-cells. The CAR T-cells are then infused back into the patient’s bloodstream, where they multiply and attack cancer cells. Unlike medications, these T-cells can stay active for years after the initial treatment, offering long-term protection against relapse.

“Before CAR T-cell therapy, 10 years ago – or even 5 years ago – if you had an infant who relapsed after a blood and marrow transplant, there weren’t a lot of good options for treatments,” says Dr. Kaplan. “Now, with CAR T-cell therapy, we have a more successful way to try to cure these kids.”

And today, Copelyn is one of those kids. Not only is her bone marrow clear, but there’s been no sign of cancer in her blood for seven months and counting. Her care team is determined to keep it that way and continues to see her monthly for blood draws and anti-cancer treatments as needed.

Since arriving in Charlotte as new neighbors, Christina and Ashley feel more at home, knowing their daughter is getting the care she deserves. “This is probably one of the best hospitals she’s been to,” says Christina. “I hate coming here because of the circumstances, but I love coming here because I know, whoever is caring for her, she will be in the best hands.”

As she grows up, Christina wants her daughter to know that “nothing is impossible – because you went through this, and you did it twice.” But for now, they’re letting 2-year-old Copelyn enjoy a cancer-free life, where she’s free to just be a toddler – princess parties, playdates and all.

“Thank you,” Christina says to Copelyn’s care team, “for giving me my child back.”