Scaling over new challenges: Sophomore Ethan Rosenstiel finds sanctuary from leukemia by playing the clarinet


Photo by: Lane Phifer

Above is an illustration of sophomore Ethan Rosenstiel who is currently battling leukemia at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, MO.

Story by Lane Phifer, Multimedia Editor

As the sun begins to set over Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, sophomore Ethan Rosensteil gets out of bed, grabs his clarinet from its case and prepares to play for the first time since he was admitted into the hospital.  

Although his lungs struggle to play, Ethan perseveres and finds himself getting lost in the music. 

While rehearsing, Ethan thinks about the first time he played the clarinet, the first time he stepped onto the football field to perform the star-spangled banner and tripped, along with how at home he felt being in the band room. 

For a moment, Ethan forgot his latest challenge — his battle against acute myeloid leukemia (AML). 

According to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, AML is a type of cancer in which the blood and bone marrow have excess immature white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets. 

Three days before he was admitted into the hospital, Ethan developed a sore throat and bumps on his neck. Frightened that he was possibly showing symptoms of COVID-19, Ethan went to the clinic only to be rushed to Children’s Mercy in an ambulance on Christmas Eve several hours later. 

Ethan’s first admission took place between Dec. 25 to Jan. 23.

“When I went to the clinic to find the information I was looking for and found out it wasn’t good information at all, it was stressful and I honestly didn’t know how to deal with the diagnosis because the possibility of having cancer was the last thing on my mind,” Ethan said. “For the first few days, weeks really, it felt like a roller coaster of emotions.”

The day after Ethan’s diagnosis, he began his first round of chemotherapy treatment. When Ethan first started on IV chemo, he gradually became weaker and had difficulty eating or drinking. 

“While in my first admission and my first round of chemotherapy, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t eat, and I couldn’t drink anything. I was hooked up to fluids and nutrients on an IV. I lost 25 pounds within the first week,” Ethan said. “My energy levels were at zero so I was sleeping a majority of the time and it was difficult to do anything. Being able to get through it one day at a time was an achievement for me.”

Throughout Ethan’s recovery, his mother, Jamie Rosenstiel, has been by his side and continues to remain hopeful despite the challenges that come their way. 

“We’re going about it one day at a time,” Jamie said. “This isn’t something that any parent wants to see their child go through, but he’s been pretty positive for the most of it and because of that, I know I can be positive, too.”

Regardless of the struggles that have come with Ethan’s diagnosis, he remains persistent and has discovered that he is able to have a smoother recovery by playing the clarinet. 

“The first few days that I had my instrument with me, I was struggling to play, but it helped my lung capacity from day one,” Ethan said. “Anytime I saw or played my instrument, I thought about the people back at home who were praying for me and showing support. It reminded me that I’m not alone.”

Since the news of Ethan’s diagnosis became public, he received a large amount of support from his peers and teachers. 

Throughout the past several months, the Rosenstiel family has received $1,595 worth of donations from the community that will go towards Ethan’s recovery. 

When Instrumental Music Director Cooper Neil was informed by Jamie about Ethan’s diagnosis, he decided to take the news to the PHS Band Booster Facebook page by sharing Ethan’s GoFundMe link to encourage others to donate or show their support. 

“Ethan’s mother contacted me over break to inform me of his devastating diagnosis,” Neil said. “It was gut-wrenching. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for Ethan and his family to have such horrific news amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, Facebook and email were the best ways to let the PHS Band Community know what was happening with one of our own.”

After science teacher Karen Curran found out about Ethan’s diagnosis in January, she decided she wanted to send him a care package. 

“With him being in the hospital and not being able to do a lot with his friends and family, I thought that he probably needed some things that would make him feel more comfortable during his time in admission,” Curran said. “When preparing his care package, I asked him what he would like most, so I made sure to get everything he needed or wanted. As a surprise, I asked some of our students to write him notes, sign their names on the box, really anything I could to show Ethan how much support he has.”

The next step in Ethan’s recovery is to undergo a bone marrow transplant within the next several weeks, for which Jamie was found to be the donor. 

The procedure will replace Ethan’s unhealthy blood-forming cells (stem cells) with healthy ones. 

“I’m glad to be Ethan’s bone donner and we’re hopeful that this will work,” Jamie said. “The doctors have been assuring me that it’s not a super painful procedure, but I don’t know any parents who would care about that part because, at the end of the day, we got to do what we got to do for our kids.”

The recovery process takes two to three weeks. Once healed, Ethan, Jamie and the remainder of the Rosenstiel family will remain close by the hospital for one to two months in case Ethan has a negative reaction. 

If Ethan’s health does improve, he will be able to go home and have bi-weekly appointments, which will then turn into monthly and eventually, every six months. 

Ethan will also be referred to take chemotherapy medication for at least a year to prevent the mutations from coming back. 

“We still have a long way to go,” Jamie said. “But the doctors are all super hopeful, so we’re going to do what we can now.”

While Ethan’s recovery isn’t nearly over, he continues to remain optimistic for the future. 

“This came as a huge shock to Ethan and he’s handled it extremely well. I could only hope that if something like this were to happen to me or a family member, that I could have a great attitude towards getting through the hard times,” Curran said. “I know that there are times where he’s not feeling great at all and struggling, but he always bounces back and knows that there’s a brighter day tomorrow.”