ROWLEY — Six years ago, Johanna Lent, a Rowley mother of three, got devastating news.
Her middle child, Ethan, then 5 years old, had been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a rare cancer of the blood and bone marrow and was given a 30 percent chance of survival.
“I walked back into my house and I said, ‘Oh my gosh. He may never be back in this house again,’” Lent said of coming home that fateful night.
Lent and her husband, Yancy, were told that, depending on the type of leukemia Ethan had, they would be living out of Children’s Hospital for the next month.
“Then the next day they told us they were wrong and we would be there for about six months,” said Lent. “So, that’s when we called in the troops. My mom came to the house and took care of my kids for me while I lived at the hospital with my son.”
Ethan started intense chemotherapy immediately, which caused severe infections and pneumonia while his family could do nothing but watch. Then a miracle happened. Ethan’s younger brother, Eliot, who was 3 years old, was a perfect match for a transplant. A five-month process began as doctors removed bone marrow from Eliot’s lower backbone roughly 40 times.
“It was overwhelming,” Lent said of the feelings brought to the forefront during that time. “It was literally a matter of life and death.”
The Lents beat the odds and Eliot, now 11, is not only in remission but just helped the Rowley Red Sox win their Little League championship from right field.
“We always call Ethan a superhero because he beat those amazing obstacles that were placed in front of him and he came through this with amazing strength,” said Lent. “But superhero is the term that I call any child that I’ve met who is facing this horrific disease.”
In honor of her incredible sons, Lent will be riding the 192 miles from Sturbridge to Provincetown in her fifth Pan Mass Challenge Aug. 3 and 4. A fundraiser for the Jimmy Fund, Lent will be riding alongside her husband and five others as part of Team Superhero.
“I’m not sure which is worse, the biking or the fundraising,” said a laughing Lent, who trains about four to six hours a week for the Challenge. The Superhero team will be holding a fundraiser at Flatbread Co. in Amesbury next Tuesday, where the popular restaurant will donate $3.50 for every large pizza sold and $1.50 for every small.
“It’s tough,” Lent said of the Challenge itself. “One hundred miles the one day and 99 the next. The first day it is a lot of uphill and the last day, when you get into Provincetown, you’re going over the dunes and it’s 80-90 degrees. It’s fun stuff.
“But as you’re riding, you’re riding next to somebody and you share your stories. You hear why they are riding. Then you are more inspired and you see the people who are cheering you on along every road you are on. Then there are the pictures of the kids who are fighting it or have lost their battle and if you didn’t train, you couldn’t ride it.”
Nowadays, when not training or fundraising, Lent gets to enjoy her family, which includes a daughter, Emma, 13.
“If you met Eliot and Ethan, you wouldn’t think that they were brothers,” said Lent. “One has dark brown hair and his brother has blond hair. One is 20 pounds heavier than the other one and he is two and a half years younger. Eliot is this big kid who is smart and kind and I guess he was put here to do something.”
But Ethan and Eliot are still brothers.
“You would think there would be world peace in this house, but there is not,” said Lent with a laugh. “We bring it up occasionally, just as a reminder to be nice to each other, but it doesn’t change too much on a daily basis. I think, as they grow, they’ll look back, but I don’t know.”
Of having her son back, Lent said, “I can’t express it in words. You just feel like you’re completely blessed and fortunate. Because when we were in the hospital, they give us these odds. Even after the successful transplant, the doctor said 50 percent. So, you think you’re out of the woods and you’re not.
Another boy we were in with, he left a couple weeks before we did and I talked to his mom a few weeks later and his cancer was back. He didn’t make it. I get to keep my son. She gets to lose her son. So you’re faced with that. You’re faced with the fact that other families have lost their kids and your heart breaks for them.”