age 10, brain cancer
In 2017, Joanna started having severe, persistent headaches. Her doctor thought she had strep throat. But when her balance deteriorated, and she developed double vision, her parents, Peter and Larisa, grew sincerely alarmed.
Larisa actually had to carry her from the car to the emergency room; Joanna’s balance was that poor.
Nine-year-old Joanna was found to have medulloblastoma, a type of brain cancer. After surgery, she was referred to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Why St. Jude? In part because St. Jude is home to the world’s first proton therapy center for children, providing one of the most advanced radiation technologies for treatment of pediatric cancer.
The family soon learned St. Jude is not only high-tech, but high-touch. Joanna shared a last name with one of her doctors, who joked they must be long-lost cousins. The St. Jude School Program by Chili's helped Joanna stay on track with mastering everything necessary to keep up with her fourth grade class back home.
“For the entire school year, we were at the hospital,” said Larisa, “and yet Joanna did not go back a grade. Now she is a happy fifth-grader. She loves to be back in the classroom with other kids her age. She even ran for the school council this year.”
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Joanna completed proton therapy and chemotherapy in March 2018. Larisa said, “St. Jude did everything possible so that the transition back to our normal life was as smooth as possible. We now come to St. Jude every three months for scans.
Coming back is a special time for us. It was our home for seven months, and that time was filled with so much warmth, loving care and smiles amid hard times. We love St. Jude.”
Joanna enjoys doing science experiments, playing with her cat, Fuzzy, writing poetry and doing art projects.
Much of her art pays tribute to her favorite animal, the panda. She also enjoys ballet, collecting stuffed animals and playing the violin.
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