When Alyssa Nielson’s son Jakob had leg pain, bloody noses and extreme lethargy, she knew what was coming.
Alyssa, pregnant with her fourth child, ran errands and bought groceries for the next few weeks before taking Jakob to the emergency room.
Alyssa knew she was in for a seven- to 10-day visit at the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison.
She knew her 7-year-old son had leukemia.
It was the shoe she had been waiting to drop for four years, ever since Jakob’s twin brother, Channing, was diagnosed with the disease.
Doctors had told Alyssa that Jakob had increased odds of developing leukemia after Channing, his identical twin, was diagnosed, Alyssa said.
The likelihood for identical twins both being diagnosed with leukemia is unknown, but doctors know it’s more common for one twin to get leukemia if the other has had it, said Christian Capitini, assistant professor for the department of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
Capitini said seeing both twins diagnosed with leukemia is rare but not unheard of.
“The identical twin leukemia cases are always very fascinating intellectually because it gives us a rare insight into how leukemia happens and how it develops,” Capitini said. “It tells us we have a lot more to learn.”
The boys, now 11 years old, are both off treatment for cancer and doing well, Alyssa said. But leukemia will have lasting effects on their family, Alyssa said.
In March 2011, Alyssa took 3-year-old Channing to his pediatrician’s office for a fever and strep throat, she said.
The next morning, Channing’s pediatrician called. Lab results showed her son needed to see an oncologist that day, she said.
Hours later, Channing received a bone marrow biopsy that confirmed he had leukemia.
Leukemia is a cancer that affects blood and bone marrow, Capitini said.
Cancer research has greatly benefited leukemia patients. About 85 percent of patients survive, Capitini said.
There were 162 cases of leukemia in Rock County between 2011 and 2015, according to most recently available data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
In 2011, Wisconsin had 53 cases of leukemia in children from birth to age 14, according to the data.
Channing underwent six months of weekly inpatient chemotherapy treatments and six four-day hospital stays for high-dose chemotherapy, Alyssa said.
Channing was in the maintenance phase for two years, which included monthly oncology appointments and oral chemotherapy at home, Alyssa said.
He finished treatment in September 2013, Alyssa said.
“Five years off treatment ... is huge,” Alyssa said. “That is the huge milestone for me. That is what ... they (doctors) told me when he was diagnosed that once he is five years off treatment, you don’t have to worry as much anymore.”
Having cancer at a young age changed Channing’s childhood, he said.
“When I was younger, growing up with cancer, that is all I knew really,” Channing said. “Going through it, probably my biggest friend there was my mom, my dad and this little stuffed animal, Bear-Bear. That was my friend whenever I was having a hard time, I would hold it close to me and feel better.”
Jakob was diagnosed with leukemia nine months after Channing had taken his final chemotherapy pill.
“With Channing, it was the fear of the unknown,” Alyssa said. “We had no idea what it meant. We thought when he was diagnosed we were going to lose our child.”
“When Jakob was diagnosed, it was kind of the fear of the known—knowing how hard it was going to be, knowing the financial struggle, knowing how much pain he would be in.”
Jakob began chemotherapy the day he was diagnosed, Alyssa said. His treatment was different than his brother’s because Jakob had a different mutation of the cancer.
Jakob stayed in the hospital for a week with low platelet counts and a weakened immune system, Alyssa said.
He underwent nine months of weekly chemotherapy. His overall treatment lasted more than three years, Alyssa said.
With treatment and hospitalizations for various illnesses, Jakob missed half of second grade and months of fifth grade, Alyssa said.
“It was easier for me knowing that Channing went through it and survived,” Jakob said. “It was easier for me to cope with the stress and things.”
Jakob took his final chemotherapy pill on Halloween 2017. The family celebrated with a chemo-ween party, filled with medical-themed treats and activities.
Life for the Nielson family is slowly reaching a new normal since the twins have been off treatment, Alyssa said.
The boys were recognized this year as Honored Heroes from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Alyssa said.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in partnership with Burlington Stores in Madison, surprised the twins with shopping sprees in October.
Burlington Stores across the country encourage donations to the organization from September through December and have raised more than $32 million, according to a news release.
The Nielsons received help from family, the community and The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society while the twins were sick. Now, the family hopes to give back to other people as often as it can, Alyssa and the boys said.
“Kind of having cancer was a good thing, but yet, it was a bad thing,” Channing said. “It helped us learn to get through those hard times in our lives that we have to go through later. It made us stronger. It made us so we can actually go through and have a better understanding of what other people have gone through, too.”
Alyssa is encouraged by those who fund and raise awareness for leukemia research, she said.
Capitini said leukemia treatment has made many advances in recent years.
Methods using immunotherapy to reduce the need for chemotherapy are among some of the most promising, Capitini said. Reducing chemotherapy treatments can help preserve patients’ health in the long-term.
Jakob hopes one day to be among the people working toward a cure for cancer, he said.
“I want to become a scientist someday to try and find a cure for all cancers so that no one else has to go through what I had to go through.”
With their grip on power set to loosen come January, Republicans in several states are considering last-minute changes to laws that would weaken existing or incoming Democratic governors and advance their own conservative agendas.
In Michigan, where the GOP has held the levers of power for nearly eight years, Republican legislators want to water down a minimum wage law they approved before the election so that it would not go to voters and would now be easier to amend.
Republicans in neighboring Wisconsin are discussing ways to dilute Democrat Tony Evers’ power before he takes over for GOP Gov. Scott Walker. And in North Carolina, Republicans may try to hash out the requirements of a new voter ID constitutional amendment before they lose their legislative supermajorities and their ability to unilaterally override vetoes by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
Republicans downplay the tactics and point out that Democrats have also run lame-duck sessions, including in Wisconsin in 2010 before Walker took office and the GOP took control of the Legislature. But some of the steps Republicans are expected to take will almost surely be challenged in court, and critics say such maneuvers undermine the political system and the will of the people, who voted for change.
“It’s something that smacks every Michigan voter in the face and tells them that this Republican Party doesn’t care about their voice, their perspective,” House Democratic Leader Sam Singh said of the strategizing to control the fate of minimum wage increases and paid sick leave requirements.
The moves would follow midterm elections in which Democrats swept statewide offices in Michigan and Wisconsin for the first time in decades but fell short of taking over their gerrymandered legislatures.
That gives Republicans a final shot to lock in new policies, with Democrats unable to undo them anytime soon.
Michigan’s new minimum wage and sick time laws began as ballot drives but because they were preemptively adopted by lawmakers in September rather than by voters, they can be altered with simple majority votes rather than the support of three-fourths of both chambers.
One measure would gradually raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour and increase a lower wage for tipped workers until it is in line with the minimum. The other would require that employees qualify for between 40 and 72 hours of paid sick leave, depending on the size of their employer.
It is unclear how the laws may be changed to appease an anxious business lobby. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce says mandatory sick time—10 other states also require it—will place “severe compliance burdens” on employers, including those with paid leave policies in place currently. The group also is urging lawmakers to “be pragmatic, not extreme” and revisit the wage hikes that would make Michigan’s minimum the highest in the Midwest.
Republicans seem unfazed by criticism that scaling back the measures would thwart the will of voters who resoundingly elected Democrat Gretchen Whitmer to replace GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, who reached his term limit. The Michigan Senate’s majority leader, Arlan Meekhof, said changes to the laws are needed to “continue to keep our economy on track and not put a roadblock or hindrance” in the way of businesses.
Lame-duck sessions, which are commonplace in Congress but rare among many state legislatures, are frenetic, as legislators rush to consider bills that are controversial or were put on the backburner during election season. Michigan’s 2012 session, for example, produced right-to-work laws and a contentious revised emergency manager statute for cities in financial peril, despite voters having just repealed the previous law.
The lame-duck period may be especially intense this year in Michigan and Wisconsin because they are among just four states in which Republicans are losing full control the governorship and both legislative chambers. Lawmakers in the other two states, Kansas and New Hampshire, will not convene until next year.
Six states with a split government now will be fully controlled by Democrats in 2019, and Alaska will be fully controlled by Republicans.
Wisconsin Republicans plan to consider a variety of ways to protect laws enacted by Walker.
Those include limiting Evers’ ability to make appointments, restricting his authority over the rule-making process and making it more difficult for him to block a work requirement for Medicaid recipients. They might also change the date of the 2020 presidential primary so that a Walker-appointed state Supreme Court justice has better odds to win election.
Michigan’s outgoing governor, Snyder, hasn’t weighed in on the plan to amend the minimum wage and sick leave laws, which would require his signature, unlike when they were passed. He is trying to persuade his fellow Republicans to boost and add new fees for environmental cleanup and water infrastructure upgrades, and he wants the Legislature to help facilitate a deal to drill an oil pipeline tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac. The agreement is opposed by Whitmer and the state’s Democratic Attorney General-elect, Dana Nessel.
Supporters of the existing wage and sick time laws have been mobilizing to keep them intact. MI Time to Care—the campaign backing guaranteed paid time off for workers who are sick or need to stay home with an ill family member—launched ads, mailed postcards and went door to door before the election reminding people of their rights under the law that is scheduled to take effect in March.
Chairwoman Danielle Atkinson said the sick leave proposal would have been approved in a “landslide” if it had been on the ballot.
“It’s clearly why the Legislature moved to pass it, and now they should uphold it as the promise that they made to the voters,” she said.
Wisconsin gained a deer hunter Saturday, and the state Department of Natural Resources is looking for more just like him.
Ben Tolle, the boyfriend of my youngest daughter, Monica, hunted for the first time Saturday.
And he shot a buck.
Ben hikes, bikes, ice fishes and snowboards but until Saturday had never hunted.
“Growing up, there were people who hunted around me, but none that I was really hearing much about their hunting or going hunting with them,” Ben said.
Ben, 29, hunted with me Saturday as part of the DNR’s mentored hunting program that allows first-time hunters to buy a $5 license and hunt without first taking a hunter safety course if they stay within arm’s reach of another hunter. It’s among a handful of programs the DNR is trying to bring fresh blood into the state’s anemic population of deer hunters.
Ben and I knelt next to each other in the snow-dusted hayfield at 8 a.m. Saturday as a six-pointer trotted across the field on the other side of the fence.
My nephew Jim Muchow, 30, of Milwaukee, opened fire from his stand a few hundred yards away. The buck stopped, and we all shot. Bullets from Jim’s and Ben’s rifles toppled the buck.
Ninety minutes into his first hunt, Ben had his first buck.
I’ve hunted all my life because my dad, uncles and cousins hunted. As a kid, I soaked in all the deer-hunting stories and couldn’t wait to start.
In recent years, I’ve hunted with Jim and another nephew, Taylor Demos, 31, Beloit. Each November, we descend on my sister’s Reedsburg home, where she pampers us with cherry torte between our forays into the woods and fields of a dairy farm owned by longtime family friends.
Last year, we shot a buck and two does, and my youngest daughter insisted on helping butcher. Ben came along.
As we cut meat in our Beloit kitchen, we inflicted upon him deer hunting stories old and new.
He decided he wanted to give hunting a try.
“The opportunity came up. The people around me who are in your circle, you hear about their experiences, and that you think, ‘What if I was part of that experience, too?’” he said.
But not everybody has the opportunity.
“If you’re in the hunting world, you know a lot of people who hunt. But if you’re not, you just might not know people who hunt. I know a lot of people in Madison, like all my friends in Madison, they couldn’t think of somebody to go hunting with, even if it was free,” Ben said.
Keith Warnke, hunter recruitment coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources, said his office is trying to change that. He said Madison generates the highest demand for the DNR’s Learn to Hunt for Food courses, which teach nonhunters about conservation, wildlife, shooting and firearms safety. It started in 2012 and within three years had waiting lists, according to the DNR’s website.
The mentored hunting program also started in 2012. This year, mentees are allowed to carry their own weapons.
Ben is using my late father’s .35 Remington.
I knew he could shoot because he joined us in October for our backyard pellet-gun plinking competition. He came in second behind Taylor. Jim won last time.
Ben and Monica live in Madison’s Marquette neighborhood, an enclave of the liberal Warnke said generates “so many” of the Madison people interested in the Learn to Hunt for Food courses.
“There have been dozens of people who have come out of that neighborhood and wanted to hunt for food,” he said.
“It’s food. It’s getting back to nature. It’s hunter, gatherer, forager. It’s really funny how hunting has become a curiosity. People are interested in it,” Warnke said.
But it helps to have somebody get you started, Ben said.
“It’s not really something you feel like you can do as a beginner. You’re not going to start hunting by just going by yourself on public land,” he said.
And in some circles, hunters and hunting have the reputation of being “gun-slinging rednecks,” Ben said.
Warnke acknowledged that’s a problem.
“There is that concern of the image that is out there,” he said. “What we’ve really been able to do through these classes and introductions is really dispel that imagery in those communities through word of mouth. You take people out, you give them a good experience, they’ll go back and talk you up, and suddenly you’ve got six more people signing up to do it.”
As we settled back onto our stools Saturday morning after watching Jim field dress the buck, we talked about hunting next year.
Ben said he plans to find a hunter safety class before next year’s hunt so he won’t have to be within arm’s reach.
Bagging a buck convinced him.
“It was a pretty good morning to get hooked,” he said.
Sid Schwarz is editor of The Gazette.
Gertrude “Gert” Airis
Aimeé Van Brackle
Nancy K. Dammen
Charles O. Ebube Jr.
Bonnie M. Falkowski
Merwin E. “Muff” Gerhard
Wendee L. Gestrich
Jeanine Louise Johnson
Patricia “Patti” Kania
James F. Lundgren
Charles “Chuck” McManus
Loretta Julia Mulligan
Frank Jerry Ontl
Erna W. Orcutt
Susan Kay Parrish
David Joseph Thiele
Roxeen Ann Woodward