Cambridge boy diagnosed with cancer

Fundraiser benefit for Little family July 6-7

A trip to urgent care turned into a life-changing ordeal for the Little family of Cambridge.

On the way home from a family vacation in January, 4-year-old Tenney Little seemed more anxious than usual.

The Little family spends time at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis with 4-year-old Tenney, who was diagnosed with cancer in January and is currently undergoing chemotherapy. Pictured, from left, Adam, Tenney, 2-year-old Henry and Ashley Little play a video game together. Photo by Elizabeth Sias

He was getting pickier and pickier about what he was eating, and his parents Adam and Ashley took him to urgent care due to concerns he was making himself ill by not eating.

A doctor at Cambridge Medical Center immediately felt a tumor—Tenney had cancer.

“My husband kind of froze, thinking ‘this can’t be happening,’” Ashley said. “And I just thought ‘well, OK, what do we have to do to beat this?’”

Funds raised through a garage and craft sale July 6-7 at the Little residence will benefit Tenney as he battles the disease. The sale takes place Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 4010 East Rum River Circle in Cambridge.

After discovering the tumor, the doctor sent the family to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, where Tenney ran through a series of tests that confirmed he had a tumor in his kidney and that his lungs were either filling with fluid or that the cancer had spread.

Henry and Tenney Little celebrate their birthdays together. Tenney turned 4 in March and Henry turned 2 in February. Photo submitted

They were transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Children’s Minneapolis, and it was decided they would put him under general anesthesia the next morning to run scans and possibly schedule tumor removal.

The scans revealed that the cloudiness was the cancer spreading. It was decided they would biopsy the tumor instead of remove it, as they were unsure if removal would damage other areas. The biopsy resulted in a diagnosis of a favorable histology Wilms’ tumor, which came with about a 90 percent survival rate.

Tenney was kept under general anesthesia for two weeks to avoid the discomfort of being extubated and then reintubated. While under anesthesia, he became unable to compensate for the cancer in his lungs and could no longer be extubated as planned. This resulted in Tenney needing the breathing tube for two weeks.

“That was really tough because he was hooked up to all these monitors in PICU and he can’t talk to you so all you can do is stare at the monitors and watch the numbers,” Ashley said. “It was very difficult to see him sleep that long, but this allowed us to start chemotherapy while he was asleep.”

Adam Little watches his son with fondness. Photo by Elizabeth Sias

Tenney underwent six weeks of chemotherapy before his kidney and the tumor were removed in March. After the tumor was removed, it was examined at Children’s Minneapolis and focal anaplasia was discovered.

Ashley said they’ve been explaining cancer and his treatment very literally to Tenney.

“He’s a really different kid than a lot of kids. Usually they tell kids they don’t know why this happens. Don’t say that to Tenney, though, because then he’ll try to figure it out himself,” Ashley said. “We told him, ‘it’s just one of those things that happens randomly. Sometimes people get sick and we just have to get you better.’ He knows the chemo is medicine and that the medicine makes him sick, but that it will help him get better.”

A Wilms’ tumor with focal anaplasia has a 72 percent survival rate. A portion of the tumor was sent to the world expert on Wilms’ tumors, and it was discovered that his tumor contained diffuse anaplasia, which is also called unfavorable histology Wilms’.

“We were a bit rattled to hear that only 17 to 30 percent of children with this type of cancer survive with no recurrence,” Ashley said.

For children who have a recurrence of this cancer, survival is somewhere in the single digits. Tenney underwent 10 days of radiation and is continuing chemotherapy at Children’s in Minneapolis.

“He has been so brave and forgiving about all of the IVs, needles and tests,” Ashley said. “His cancer has so far been responding very much better than expected for this type of cancer, which is keeping our hopes up.”

Half of the tumor removed was already dead after just six weeks of relatively mild chemotherapy. Tenney has a few days of chemotherapy treatment about once a month. The Littles expect treatment to last until early November, Ashley said.

He’s been hitting some delays because his bone marrow is “tired,” she explained, from constantly having to bounce back from treatment.

“We remain hopeful that Tenney will be one of the exceptional children who survives this disease,” Ashley said on Tenney’s CaringBridge page. “The big battle will be over killing the disease in his lungs. We know it is all in God’s hands, and we trust his wisdom.”

Ashley took a leave of absence from work in order to stay with Tenney when he’s at the hospital. Adam, meanwhile, works four 10-hour days each week, visiting Tenney with little brother, 2-year-old Henry, whenever possible.

The boys help each other out, too. Henry gets upset whenever Tenney gets a shot, then Henry gives him a big hug and kiss to make him feel better.

“Watching them support one another has been such an incredible blessing,” Ashley said. “It is fun to have little brother and big brother both totally protective of one another.”

The separation of the family has been one of the most difficult aspects of the ordeal, Ashley said. Tenney is slightly behind developmentally because he was asleep for so long and because the treatment makes him tired and his muscles tight. He has regular physical and occupational therapy appointments to improve his strength and coordination.

With the tumor removed and chemotherapy, the cancer has been significantly reduced, Ashley explained. There’s now only some cancer in his lungs.

“There was a lot in his lungs,” she said. “The goal now is to get rid of as much as we can, and if at some point there’s a little bit in there that we can surgically remove, we’ll have that done.”

With this type of cancer, there is a lower survival rate if there’s a recurrence.

“That’s why we’ve been so gung-ho to get all of it,” Ashley said. “We’re hoping we can get the rest of it in the lungs. It’s shrinking significantly. We’re very determined to get it the first time. This is kind of our shot at it.”

The Littles are hopeful Tenney will beat the cancer. If they can get rid of it all and it doesn’t come back, Ashley said he’ll be able to lead a normal life.

“He’s been really good about everything. He gets scared about things, but he knows it’s okay to be scared, and being brave is just doing it anyway. It’s pretty amazing how brave kids can be.”

Along with the garage sale, donations are also accepted at any Wells Fargo location under the Tenney Little Benefit Donation Fund. Visit Tenney’s CaringBridge website to keep updated on his progress at