Keegan Rosenberry and Aren

How soccer saved Aren Vartanian's life | Pediatric Cancer Awareness month

“He loves soccer so much. We really do feel, ironically, that it saved his life.”

At just 7-years-old, Aren Vartanian, knew he had a passion for soccer. After returning from a month-long vacation before school was about to start, Aren’s parents signed him up to play. Everything seemed to be going great – Aren was excited to begin playing the game he loved, he was happy and healthy.

“We had been on vacation from July through almost the end of August. He was fine, there was no indication of anything being wrong, he didn’t feel ill and there wasn’t anything of concern. Throughout the summer he shared this great interest with soccer with us. He’s been interested in soccer for years now.” Aren’s mother Sareen said.

As the end of summer approached, Aren began to feel pain in his tailbone. The area, when checked, appeared to be fine. Aren had mentioned he thought he hurt himself playing with his cousin but continued to go about his business as usual. Shortly after, the pain subsided.

Aren headed to soccer practice the following evening and practiced as usual.  He was so excited to have completed his first practice, and his love for the game was evident.

The next day he wanted to practice with Vik, his father, so he was well prepared for his first game that week. As they kicked the ball around, his parents noticed Aren had a weird kick and his run was a bit off. He didn’t complain of any pain but his parents began to get concerned and kept an eye on it.

“He practiced with his dad that day and come the next day or two he started telling us his leg hurt. It got progressively worse and mimicked sciatic pain, a pain that is unusual for a 7-year-old,” Sareen said.

That Saturday, Aren was supposed to play in his first soccer game of the season, but his parents decided it was best to take him to the local emergency room to get checked out by a doctor.

“He was really upset, but we wanted him to get it checked out in the emergency room because the pain seemed to be worsening.  Testing in the ER performed looked normal, so we were cleared to go home and treat the symptoms.  If the symptoms persisted for a week, we should follow-up with a pediatric orthopedic specialist, “ Sareen explained.

His parents felt uneasy watching and waiting. Instinct was telling them there was something wrong. 

Ultimately, they took Aren to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) two days later where they performed an MRI shortly after admission and found a tumor in his sacrum.

The next day, neurosurgery would confirm it was Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone and soft tissue tumor. The devastating news was delivered to the family on September 14, 2017.

““We think your child has cancer” are words that should never be heard,” Sareen said.  “Things were fine just a few days before and now we were signing papers to consent our little boy to surgery and chemotherapy.  In an instant everything changed and our lives would never be the same. Our sweet boy had to grow up overnight.  Over the next few days we saw a strength and resiliency in Aren we had never before, we drew our strength through him.”

Aren began his journey to recovery, wanting to understand and be part of the entire process. He wanted to be prepared and rejoice in every obstacle he overcame together with his family.  

“He started his first cycle of 14 cycles of inpatient chemotherapy just two days after diagnosis. He was hospitalized for 3-6 days every other week and had to go to the ER for the development of any fever in between,” his mother explained. 

All of a sudden instead of school, soccer, friends and fun he was getting blood draws, chemo, transfusions and shots to boost his immune system, just to name a few. It also became evident that the effects were inevitably impacting his little sister, Layla (4).

“With time she adapted well and became our ray of smiling sunshine throughout the process and her brother’s biggest cheerleader, always making him laugh,” Sareen said.

As time went on, Aren’s unwavering strength and perseverance throughout the process was eye-opening to his parents; particularly in the stretch of 32 consecutive days of proton radiation therapy he would start to receive a few months into his chemotherapy regimen.

“He was extremely brave during his treatment journey. He never once had a doubt that he would be well after he completed what the doctors told him in the beginning, and so he fought hard,” Sareen said.

After eight months of treatment including inpatient chemotherapy and proton radiation, he was declared to be in remission as of April 2018. Aren has been in high spirits, shown signs of clear health and has continued his love for the beautiful game.

“He’s feeling great. He was declared to have no evidence of active disease at the end of his therapy. His “goal” was to have a soccer party to celebrate his birthday and end of therapy. He couldn’t wait all summer to start soccer,” Sareen said.

Now that Aren is able to participate in the sport and attend different games and functions, he’s turned his attention to the Union and has developed a massive devotion to the sport.

“He’s come to see the Union play several times now and he’s fascinated by it. He’s had the opportunity to meet some of the players who he feels, in his own words, “have given soccer a whole new level of coolness!””  Sareen said.

Despite the long journey that the Vartanian family experienced, they feel like they gained the gift of perspective.

“We are forever fortunate for our everyday and we cherish our days together.  This journey has forever changed us, but for the better.  We find happiness in our everyday as each day in good health is a gift.  Aren has impacted us and so many others at his young age, teaching us about what should be valued and what is most important in life.”

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