Therapy Dog Brings Hope Into ‘Nightmare’ of Childhood Cancer

‘A little light’


“I think Swoosh remembers me!” Bryce replies with a content smile while his hand is being covered in sloppy Swoosh kisses.

“Of course, Swoosh recognizes you!” Michelle agrees.

At 5, Bryce was the initial child enrolled in the scientific trial at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. For mother Jenny and father Dustin, the invitation came as a welcome distraction for an overwhelmed family.

“It gave us something to talk about, to take the focus off what was truly happening,” Dustin Greenwell said. “It wasn’t all about the needles and pokes and prods. For Bryce, Swoosh was something to look forward to. … He could hang out with Swoosh for a little bit.”

“Bryce would have to take an anti-anxiety medication prior to many hospital appointments to calm his anxiety,” Jenny added. “But when he saw Swoosh, his anxiety level went down without the need for medication. It was a little light to the horror that we were experiencing.


“Children diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, like Bryce and Mitchell, are instantly placed into induction therapy, a 29-day procedure of chemotherapy. At the conclusion of that cycle, most move into remission but are placed on maintenance chemotherapy for two to three years to minimize the chances of relapse.

Bryce’s cancer didn’t respond to standard treatment. When several additional rounds of high-dose chemotherapy also didn’t work, he was admitted to a clinical trial of T-cell therapy, which placed him into remission by the summer of 2014.

But because T-cell therapy was so new, Bryce’s physicians also proposed a complete bone marrow transplant, which he obtained in August. Unfortunately, the transplant triggered an unusual form of chronic graft-versus-host disease, in which the donor’s immune cells invade the beneficiary’s healthy cells.

Now 9, Bryce continues to battle with chronic anemia, severe muscle spasms and a variety of motion issues. During these troublesome moments, Jenny says, Bryce often tells himself, “Think of Swoosh. Think of Swoosh.”

“When Bryce saw Swoosh today, after not seeing him for about two years, it literally warmed my heart,” she says, tearing up. “He was so thrilled to get to see Michelle and Swoosh again. It just reaffirms how beneficial it was for Bryce in the beginning and the bond that was formed.”

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