The symptoms never hinted at the severity of the situation. Da’Maya had an earache and a swollen throat, and her mom, Sywanda, noticed she was uncharacteristically sleepy in church. But what seemed at first like a simple infection was actually a large tumor growing up the left side of the 9-year-old’s neck, pushing her airway far to the side and invading her face.
When a biopsy suggested cancer, Da’Maya was immediately referred to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where the diagnosis was confirmed. It was rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer affecting soft tissues.
Da’Maya would start 42 weeks of intensive treatment including chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but first, she had to undergo a tracheotomy surgery. Radiation would likely cause the tumor to swell before shrinking it, and this could potentially compromise her ability to breathe.
When she got out of surgery, Da’Maya couldn’t really talk, but she was trying to tell her mother something. Sywanda gave her pen and paper, and Da’Maya wrote, “Jesus.” Then she pointed up and said, “He has me covered.”
“From that day, I’ve been good,” said Sywanda. “Her faith and her belief in God has really helped us through this. When we first got here, I was a nervous wreck. Her personality keeps me going. She’s very strong. The only thing she feared was losing her hair. Other than that, she was good.”
Da’Maya still has several months of treatment left, but she’s staying upbeat. She loves painting with St. Jude Child Life Specialists. And Sywanda, a teacher, is pleased her daughter can keep up with her schoolwork thanks to the St. Jude School Program by Chili’s.
Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. “You know, sometimes when people ask you for donations, you’ll have in the back of your mind, okay, what are you doing with this money?” said Sywanda. “Once I got here, I actually got to see what St. Jude is really all about. They’ve been taking care of us from day one. It’s such a relief.”