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After Being Free Of Leukemia For Five Years, North Texas Boy Has A Relapse

Mark Birnbaum
KERA News Special Contributor
Jude Cobler, left, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. His brother, Joshua, provided his bone marrow. Jude's leukemia relapsed in April.

KERA’s recent Breakthroughs series “Growing Up After Cancer” profiled a North Texas boy named Jude Cobler. He was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia when he was 5 years old. Earlier this month, Jude's leukemia relapsed.

Since Jude had gone five years cancer-free after chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant, there was very little chance of a relapse. So when Jude went to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas after not feeling well, the news that his cancer was back was a shock.

Even doctors like Laura Klesse were surprised.

“Most children with leukemia right now are cured of their disease long term,” she said. “I think one of the things we knew about Jude’s leukemia is that it was a little more resistant to chemotherapy. Our goal is to have children in remission that first month. His was a little slower. Why it is that the leukemia cells were quiet for five years before they came back? That’s a question none of us can answer.”

Testing shows Jude’s original cancer cells have overtaken the cells his brother, Joshua, donated years ago. Doctors have started Jude on intensive chemotherapy.

Jude's parents, Boots and Keith, are camping out at the hospital that’s once again become a second home. They’re trying to stay awake -- and optimistic.

“We feel like we’re at the base of Mount Everest, just getting ready to start the climb,” Keith Cobler said. “We’re starting chemo this month and that’ll go on, and then it’ll be the next step from there. But it’ll be a long and difficult climb over the next few months.”

The first plateau to reach is remission. That’s where the signs of leukemia are gone, even though cancer cells may still be in the body. Then Jude could need another bone marrow transplant. Scaling that peak is extra tricky.

Keith Cobler is white. Boots is from the Philippines. Being a mixed-race couple poses a challenge.

“The challenge of course is finding a match for Jude,” Keith Cobler said. “Finding that match is very difficult.”

There are around 16 million volunteer donors on the national Be The Match Registry. Of those, only 3 percent identify as mixed race.

Dr. Klesse says it may be possible to use bone marrow from Jude’s older brother Joshua again, but that there could be some benefit in looking for somebody else that also is a match. You want the donor cells to be similar enough to blend in, but not so similar they forget to fight off the leukemia.

The Coblers, and all of Jude’s friends, have already started the search.

In a video, classmates of Jude’s at All Saints Catholic School in Dallas hold up handwritten signs saying “I AM JUDE” to promote a bone marrow drive on May 6 with the national Be The Match Registry.

The video has more than 5,000 views on Facebook.

As Jude works through chemo, he’s finding new ways to distract himself, including playing the ukulele.

Explore "Growing Up After Cancer"

Read the KERA Breakthroughs series "Growing Up After Cancer."

Bone Marrow Drive On May 6

All Saints is teaming up with Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas for a bone marrow drive. It’s from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. May 6 at Jesuit at 12345 Inwood Rd. in Dallas.

Frisco RoughRiders Fundraiser And Bone Marrow Drive May 15

A second bone marrow drive and fundraising event will be put on by the Dad's Club of All Saints for the Frisco RoughRiders vs. Corpus Christi Hooks on Friday, May 15 at 7:05 pm.  The deadline to order tickets is May 1. Contact Joshua Bray at (972) 334-1980 or 

Lauren Silverman was the Health, Science & Technology reporter/blogger at KERA News. She was also the primary backup host for KERA’s Think and the statewide newsmagazine  Texas Standard. In 2016, Lauren was recognized as Texas Health Journalist of the Year by the Texas Medical Association. She was part of the Peabody Award-winning team that covered Ebola for NPR in 2014. She also hosted "Surviving Ebola," a special that won Best Long Documentary honors from the Public Radio News Directors Inc. (PRNDI). And she's won a number of regional awards, including an honorable mention for Edward R. Murrow award (for her project “The Broken Hip”), as well as the Texas Veterans Commission’s Excellence in Media Awards in the radio category.