After more than three years of chemotherapy, 9-year-old Dagan Lingenfelter of Prairie Village this month celebrated the end of cancer treatment.
A fourth grader at Belinder Elementary, his last treatment date was April 17. The following day, friends, family and neighbors celebrated — physical distancing style — with a long line of cars parading in front of his house. The drive-by of honking, hollering and waving lasted about six or seven minutes.
“I just wanted him to feel celebrated, even though we can’t really celebrate in the big way that we had all planned to celebrate,” said Megan Hanna, his mother. “There was car after car after car. I think about halfway through it I realized what was happening, and I definitely started crying, just from all of it. I think it just kind of hit me.”
Lingenfelter was diagnosed in December 2016 with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood cancer. He had been feeling fatigued and weak, and after seeing his doctor, he was admitted to Children’s Mercy Hospital. He was in first grade at the time.
“It was really scary; I actually usually get a little tearful when I talk about it,” Hanna said. “It’s kind of traumatic, thinking back to that moment. He was so tiny.”
His initial prognosis was good, as doctors thought he had a low chance for relapse. But after his first month of cancer treatment, he didn’t go into remission as doctors had anticipated. As a result, he went on an intense chemotherapy regimen for nearly a year.
After that, he started monthly chemotherapy “maintenance” treatments until the end date, which was slated for April 17, 2020.
“It’s kind of surreal; it hits me every once in a while that we made it and we’re through it,” Hanna said. “It’s kind of anticlimactic, like now what? It’s also very relieving. I mean, obviously, I never thought I would get here.”
During treatment, his family determined he would live life to the fullest. He traveled quite a bit and had many visitors. As a Kansas City Royals fan, he got a special visit from Drew Butera, then backup catcher for the Royals.
While his cancer treatments are done, Lingenfelter still worries he may relapse. But for now, this part of his journey is over. Once the stay-at-home orders are lifted and the coronavirus pandemic passes, Lingenfelter’s family plans to host a block party with food trucks.
“It just felt so good to be celebrating something so big and something so joyful in this time when we’re all struggling and trying to make ends meet and worrying about what’s going to happen,” Hanna said one friend had told her during the parade. “I think that’s really just it. There’s nothing that I could do that would big enough to celebrate it, honestly. It’s the biggest celebration ever.”