Arearn laughs as her youngest child, 9-year-old Kenadie, resolutely proclaims that she is her mother’s favorite.
Arearn (Are-E-awn) laughs a lot now, watching Kenadie dance and announce that she’s an artist (with 100 canvases at home) or say that one of her favorite things to do is to bug her mother. To the staff at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital®, Kenadie was known as Miss Sassy.
Kenadie is full of spirit and likes things done in a certain way, her mom said. She will give you a “death stare” when something must happen that she doesn’t like but can’t avoid.
She doesn’t like needles or having to swallow pills. She wanted her own pillows and her own blankets until she decided she liked the warmed hospital blankets better. And sometimes she didn’t like the food, so they’d order out.
She’s still sassy. Fifteen months of cancer treatment couldn’t touch Kenadie at her core. For that Arearn is grateful to God and to St. Jude.
Kenadie was diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma in April of 2022, less than a month after her eighth birthday. It wasn't her first health complication.
When Kenadie was 2, doctors discovered her subclavian artery, a large artery that supplies oxygen-rich blood to the upper body, was going the wrong way around her heart. It was something she was born with. A vascular ring repair was done when she was 6 to correct it.
A few weeks before her cancer diagnosis, Kenadie woke her mother in the middle of the night. She felt sick and was vomiting.
The next day it happened again. Because of Kenadie’s previous health challenges, Arearn was worried. She and her husband decided to take her to the emergency room at a Tennessee children’s hospital.
There, Arearn was told Kenadie likely had a stomach bug and a pulled muscle. They were sent home.
A couple of days later, the hospital asked them to bring Kenadie back in as soon as possible. They had seen a mass in one of her scans. They reached out to St. Jude and the following day, Kenadie was admitted.
At St. Jude, doctors compared her new scans with the old scans and saw that the mass was there a year ago. It had doubled in size and was now about 18 inches long.
“It had a year to grow, and we had no idea,” Arearn said.
The tumor was around Kenadie’s adrenal gland and her kidney but had not spread to other organs.
“God just had his hand around her,” Arearn said.
Early radiation therapy didn’t shrink the tumor. Kenadie underwent surgery and about 95 percent of the tumor was removed. Surgery was followed by chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant and more radiation.
It took over a year, but Kenadie was cancer free.
“The care they took with Kenadie, I don’t care if it was a time when we had to drive in the middle of the night when she was running a fever or if she was impatient with treatment, it was 110 percent that they gave every time,” Arearn said.
Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food – so they can focus on helping their child live.
Arearn knew about St. Jude and that assurance, but it resonates so much more when it’s your child receiving care. For that, she’s grateful to St. Jude and to the donors.
“Because for my family, for Kenadie to get treatment here without having to pay anything was a huge help,” she said. “That was stress we didn’t have to worry about.”
Arearn is a regular donor and since Kenadie’s diagnosis, other family members have become monthly donors, too.
Kenadie describes being in the hospital as both good and bad.
“The bad part about it is I want to go home. And the good part about it was I get to spend time with the nurses,” she said, happily recalling a long list of favorites.
“What got me through it was probably Kenadie’s strength. I was there every step of the way, every treatment, every appointment. And just seeing her go through it, that’s what got me through it,” Areana said.
Kenadie is back home now with her 16-year-old sister and 12-year-old brother. She’s in fourth grade and is being homeschooled.
As much as she’d like to wrap her up, hold her tight and to keep her close, Arearn knows she has to let Kenadie go. For fifth grade next year, she’s going back to in-person school.
Meanwhile, Kenadie wants to do gymnastics, cheer and act.
“I want to keep her in a bubble right now,” Arearn said. “As much as she wants to get out and do stuff and go here and there, she’s ready. But I’m not ready.”
But, because of St. Jude, Arearn thinks about what she wants for Kenadie in the future.
“To be a good person in society, to go for her dreams whatever that may be. She says she wants to be a doctor. I want her to go for it if that’s what she wants to do,” Arearn said.
Now that cancer treatments have ended, Kenadie will continue with follow-up visits and will eventually come back annually.
And for any other little girls who might also have cancer, Kenadie has words of encouragement.
“You can do it,” Kenadie said. “You’ve got this. You’re strong.”