St. Jude patient Stella Grace, age 8, endocrine tumor
Eight-year-old Stella Grace found the spot on her leg. But a nurse anesthetist felt the lump in her neck, putting a halt to what was supposed to be a simple outpatient procedure. Her parents took her straight to the pediatrician. Blood work showed abnormal thyroid levels, and a biopsy showed thyroid carcinoma, a rare endocrine tumor.
“When our doctors told us we were going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for Stella Grace’s treatment, I was relieved to some degree,” said her dad, Chris.
The whole family, including Stella Grace, had been fundraising and participating in St. Jude Memphis Marathon events for years.
“We were going to be the funnest patient family ever,” said Stella Grace’s mom, Scarlett. “I told everybody we were going to have a dance party in her hospital room that night after surgery. That was the plan.” But even the best-laid plans change.
Stella Grace underwent surgery to remove the spot on her leg, which was not cancerous, as well as her thyroid and infected lymph nodes. But when surgeons saw the tumor had grown into Stella Grace’s trachea, crushing her vocal cord nerves, she needed a much more complicated surgery than planned.
“For your child to have cancer, it’s your worst nightmare come true,” said Scarlett. “So hearing, ‘Surprise, your child’s going to be sedated and intubated in the ICU instead of having a dance party,’ was almost harder than anything.”
After five extremely difficult days in the ICU, Stella Grace was breathing on her own again and ready to go home.
St. Jude patient Stella Grace with mom, Scarlett, and dad, Chris.
Her additional treatment at St. Jude has included physical therapy, monitoring by endocrinology and radioactive iodine treatments to treat the cancer specifically.
“The way she’s handled all of this has been amazing,” said Scarlett. “I’ve seen little glimpses of these amazing character traits coming out of her since we’ve been going through all of this. Stuff I always knew was there. It’s been scary, but she’s really taken it in stride.”
While there’s a lot more to come, the family remains confident in St. Jude, where they will never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all they should worry about is helping Stella Grace live.
St. Jude is the polar opposite of any healthcare experience: from the actual treatment, to the time they take with you and not having to worry about anything financially. And then there’s the fact that our meals are covered and everything else that the hospital does to really make it so that all you have to worry about is getting your kid better. That is really very, very true.
Stella Grace has kept up with her schoolwork throughout treatment and entered the third grade at the beginning of 2018. Writing is one of her favorite parts of school, because she can write stories about anything she likes. She plans to write her next one about her time at St. Jude.
“I’m very proud of Stella Grace, but it’s almost hard to watch her be so tough sometimes,” Chris said. “Like, ‘I don’t want you to have to be used to this.’ But one of the big takeaways from this experience is that I hope she’ll remember how brave she’s been and she can do anything.”
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