Hannah is 10 years old and will be 11 on Christmas Day 2017.
On December 1st, 2017, Hannah’s mom found out that she will be battling her third fight with cancer. She initially thought it was just a simple relapse, but with the testing needing to handle that diagnosis, they informed her that Hannah’s cancer has metastasized to her lungs. This single mom and little girl have a battle of a life time to fight and now more than ever will need money to help cost of living, tutors, travel expenses, hospital stays and medical costs.
Will you help us?
Hannah wants to win; she has the strength and drive to fight with her mom on her side.
No parent ever imagines hearing the words, YOUR CHILD HAS CANCER, but to hear that statement three times in my daughter’s short 10 years of life, is unimaginable. Hannah and I have been a team of two since her birth. She became my world, just like any other child does in their parent’s eyes. She met her milestones and was growing up right before my eyes, faster than I had desired, but eagerly wanting to do more. Hannah enjoyed the playing, laughing and most of all doing anything that involved water. No parent ever views their child as appearing odd or different as we look at our children and see perfection and beauty with every day they exist. One day, while at the beach, I remember hearing another child look at mine and make a statement to her mom that my daughter had a “big belly”. Now, this did not upset me, because kids can be kids, but little did I know that, at that moment, what this child saw was a tumor growing so big that my child’s belly began distending.
It was almost two months later, when a teacher was changing my 21 month old child’s diaper, and she felt a mass in Hannah’s stomach. Thus beginning our journey with cancer. Upon this discovery, I took Hannah to her pediatrician and they scheduled us for a “STAT” CT scan. It was at this moment, that I learned about Arnold Palmer Hospital, the hospital that would forever be a part of our family and would help save my child’s life. Once the CT was completed, I was informed that we would be admitted for further testing and that my child appears to have bilateral Wilms’ Tumor. I could not believe the words that I was hearing! The only thing that I could think about, was that the little girl on the beach was right…my child did have a big belly, because it was full of cancer. The childhood cancer world is a fast-paced world. There is no resting, no sitting back and absolutely no opportunity to catch your breath, it is game on! Almost as soon as I heard the news, I met, what seemed at that time to be, everyone that worked at APH. I met surgeons, oncologists, nephrologists, radiologists, internists, nurses, and more. They all had one thing in common (or so I believed) today was the beginning of a nightmare for my family and THEY WERE NOT GOING TO LET ME DOWN. My family of two, instantly grew to include all members of the hospital. They had my back.
Fast forward several months that included chemo, testing, doctor’s appointments, visits and stays at APH and Hannah was finally ready for surgery. Hannah had surgery to remove all aspects of the tumors that had been engulfing her two kidneys, she lost her entire left kidney and part of her right kidney. As the result of the severity of what they found during surgery, Hannah continued chemo for five more months.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, we celebrated her last chemo with a party. I couldn’t believe that we made it through and that my child was cancer free. I, reluctantly left her last chemo, wondering NOW WHAT? We were so busy for over a year with doctors appointments, testing and chemo, that the thought of her being finished was hard to grasp.
What started as a month without seeing a doctor, turned into two and then three. The followups and scans were spreading out over longer durations of time, as she was progressing beautifully and the need for monitoring her so closely lessened. I remember the followup when they considered Hannah in the “long-term clinic” because she had been in remission for so long, they even gave her a bracelet that read “SURVIVOR”. I could not believe that my now seven year old was this far outside of our cancer journey. The time while we were fighting cancer went by so slowly, but now it was flying by.
The day came when Hannah’s oncologist told us that we were finally graduating from every three month follow up appointments to every six month and finally annual appointments. The thought was both exciting and scary, exciting because they were confident that she would remain on this course, but scary because that meant that I wouldn’t get my routine statements from the APH team stating “she’s still cancer free”. Those words had become my norm and put my heart and nerves at ease.
Our lives appeared normal from the outside, without knowing our story, you never would have known that Hannah had fought cancer, except for the occasional doctors appointment. We finally were able to face “normal kid issues”, like nose bleeds, bruises, etc. Life had returned and cancer was in the distant past.
Hannah was nine years old, when we had finally gone a full year without having to have a cancer scan/followup. Hannah had just played soccer the weekend before and was looking forward to her upcoming volleyball season. She was an active 4th grade student and member of her school’s choir and bible team. Life was normal and she was finally living everyday, just like the other children around her. Hannah and I always had a tradition of going to Starbucks before every followup and this appointment was no different. We rushed to get there as she wanted to go back to school when her scans and appointments were complete.
As we walked through the doors of APH, we said hello to all of the smiling faces that had learned our family and our story. Everyone commented on how big Hannah was, how she was growing and how thankful they were that she is cancer free!
There was no indication that this day was going to be any different than any other of the countless followups and scans that we had been through. Hannah and I went to the radiology room and waited for our turn for her ultrasound. As we began her testing, we talked about what all we had to do for the rest of the day.
We didn’t even really question the technician finishing up and leaving the room. Every part of the process seemed like the others, until the radiologist came in and asked to speak to me outside of the room. Knowing that I was alone, the team had already called some of the APH staff that I had become close to for support. That is when I was told. “IT’S BACK.” I felt my knees buckle and I remember being lifted up and taken to a room where I was met by Hannah’s medical team.
Hannah’s cancer had returned and was starting to consume what was left of her right kidney. A tumor greater than 11.5 cm in diameter was growing rapidly inside. Much like the first time, the time ticked and the race began. There was no looking back and no time to waste. Hannah would be going into surgery the next morning and starting chemo quickly there after. Hannah’s surgery was a success, although it left her with less than half of one kidney to function as two. She endured a six-month regime of chemo and we got through it once again! Hannah’s only goal for herself was to not fall behind in school and to get to go to the 5th grade with her classmates and friends.
RELAPSE TWO – NOW
Hannah began fifth grade with her class and I could not have been more proud. We made a few adjustments in lifestyle over the months to protect this partial kidney…she took up swimming and we really focused on her diet but otherwise, life has returned to normal. We have been returning to APH for monthly
followups, to include, labs, ultrasounds and MRIs. For the past month, a once healthy, non-complaining child has turned into a whiny, tired and annoyed-with-everything individual. First, it began with her shoulder hurting and then her tummy ached, and then her friends hurt her feelings causing “headaches”, I called them hormones, but something wasn’t right.
Right around Thanksgiving…Hannah’s complaints began to turn real. They started to resemble what could be problems with her gallbladder. Right after the holidays, I called to see if she could be seen and of course the said yes, and ordered an ultrasound, because they agreed this sounded like gallbladder problems…..little did I know, that a tumor had grown, as big, if not bigger than her kidney and that was part of the reason for her symptoms. More testing was ordered to get to the bottom of things which included testing of her lungs (a test that has been clear for the past nine years)….but not today.
Today, I found out that this cancer has metastasized and we are about to begin a fight bigger than we have EVER faced before.
Hannah has just begun a greater than a year battle with an unknown and unfavorable prognosis….but we are not giving up!