Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's
A child's spirit often outshines the toughest challenges. Mack Porter’s remarkable and unexpected journey at the tender age of two stands as a testament to resilience, love, and the power of community.
The trouble began on Christmas Eve of 2020. Mack was just a carefree toddler who loved to run with his older brother, Tate, and two older sisters, Evie and Josie. However, as the evening unfolded, there were signs that all was not well. His mom, Dani, recalled how a simple observation led to a chain of events that would forever change their lives.
"He was breathing weird," she explained. She brought it up to her husband, Ty, who is a nurse. “It was different but not overly concerning. A couple days later, we were diagnosed with COVID, and we thought that’s what he had.”
When Mack tested negative for COVID-19, they took him to the hospital because they thought he had pneumonia or a virus. After administrating steroids, an antibiotic and blood work, everything came back okay. Doctors were no closer to understanding what was wrong.
Then, on Jan. 20, 2021, his health took an unexpected turn.
“Our whole world shifted,” said Dani. “Mack’s skin was speckled, and he was gasping for air.” They rushed him to the local emergency room.
Mack’s family, along with a team of medical professionals, started looking for answers. Over the next several hours, they ruled out allergies, asthma, pneumonia and a virus. Finally, an X-ray revealed Mack had a large mass on his chest, pushing on his airway and major blood vessels. A CT scan confirmed the devastating news. It was cancer.
A Shocking Discovery: Diagnosis and Treatment
At just 2 years and 10 months old, Mack was facing stage 3 anaplastic large cell lymphoma, an uncommon cancer made even rarer due to a negative ALK marker.
“When they told me, it was absolutely devastating, but I felt prepared to hear it, which was a blessing because I was having to go through it all alone. My husband was at home with our other children. It was very lonely and very surreal,” shared Dani. “We learned it had spread to his spine and both femurs. He had a bone lesion, which is cancer on the bone – then the really large tumor in his chest.”
Upon diagnosis, Mack was transferred from their local hospital to Phoenix Children’s, where they met their oncologist for the first time, Dr. Michael Henry. As Mack's family adjusted to the gravity of the situation, they found themselves surrounded by a formidable team of caregivers who were not only dedicated to his physical well-being but also attuned to his emotional needs.
Treatments began almost immediately after being diagnosed on Feb. 2, 2021. That day, he was able to receive pre-chemo, which helps prepare the body for treatment. Two days later, he was moved from the ICU to the oncology floor to start round one of chemotherapy. Over the next six months, he’d have a total of six rounds of the treatment.
Family, Hospital, and Community Support
The first round of Mack’s chemotherapy lasted six days. On Feb. 14 – Valentine’s Day – Mack went home for the first time in 26 days. Mack's family found themselves enveloped in a cocoon of support.
“We had an enormous crowd at our house waiting, with friends, neighbors, and family. Mack was so excited to see his brother and sisters. There was also a T-Rex and a unicorn there. My friends redid his room, gave him a bed instead of a crib. He played all day with his siblings,” shared Dani.
On March 1, Mack’s third birthday, he headed back for round two of chemotherapy treatment. The community did something special to commemorate it.
“We had a parade in front of our house. It was a two-hour long parade with over 200 side-by-side vehicles, including more than 20 members of the police and fire department,” remembered Dani. “It was super fun and lots of people gave him birthday presents that we ended up donating to other young cancer patients on our floor.”
Throughout the journey, their community rallied around Mack, creating a chain of encouragement and hope, with the hashtag #MackyStrong. Friends, neighbors and even strangers joined forces to ease the family's burdens - organizing fundraisers, meal trains, and thoughtful gestures that lifted their spirits.
Meantime, the hospital transformed into a second home for Mack and his family. He was there every two weeks until completing his final round of chemo on May 29. With each treatment, Mack was inching closer to the ultimate goal – remission.
From Treatment to Remission: Celebrating Triumphs
At each follow-up appointment, the news became more promising. Scans showed the cancer was shrinking with the tumor losing its grip on Mack's body. Then, on July 26, a fellow Phoenix Children’s oncologist was able to share the news that every warrior dreams of – he was declared cancer-free, just two days shy of starting his first day of kindergarten.
“At that point my husband and three other kids who were waiting in the car were able to come up and be there while he rang the bell,” exclaimed Dani. “It was incredible!”
A couple weeks later, they had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Henry, who asked to ring the bell with Mack since he missed it. “It was special to see Dr. Henry want to be a part of that with Mack. He’s not only a phenomenal doctor and saved my son’s life, he’s also a buddy.”
Mack couldn’t agree more. “Dr. Henry is my biggest helper. I love Dr. Henry so much! I want to thank him,” said Mack.
After ringing the bell, Mack continued to visit Dr. Henry every three months to monitor for relapse.
Mack's journey became a platform for extending a helping hand to those who were treading a similar path. He began lemonade stand fundraisers, organized blood drives and Lego drives, and held fundraising events, raising more than $14,500 to send to other kids with cancer on their dream trips.
With cancer behind him, Mack is embarking on new life adventures, from playing soccer and football to jumping on the trampoline with his big brother. “Every moment is a gift,” said Dani.
To learn more, visit the Phoenix Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.