St. Jude steps in to save a mother’s only child 

Ava's family left their home in the Bahamas so she could be treated at St. Jude.

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  •  3 min

Lakesha and her daughter Ava, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States

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Lakesha was sitting in her kitchen when her daughter Ava walked in, her neck swollen on one side.

Concerned, Lakesha kept an eye on her daughter’s condition for a couple of days before she took her 6-year-old to the doctor near their home in the Bahamas. 

Ava was given antibiotics. And even though her bloodwork came back fine, it appeared to Lakesha that Ava’s neck had gotten bigger.

Still looking for answers, the doctors ordered scans. That next day Lakesha got a call from the doctor. 

It looked like cancer, possibly lymphoma. She needed to get Ava to the hospital and there was no time to waste. The scans showed masses in Ava’s abdomen. Ava spent two days in the emergency room before she could be moved to the children’s ward.

But in an unfortunate turn of events, Ava also had COVID-19. She and her mother had to be isolated for weeks. 

Lakesha and her daughter Ava, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States

During these dark days, Lakesha could only visit her daughter an hour a day, a necessary hospital policy in her country, where there’s little room for anyone other than patients. She would drop off food in the morning and stay an hour to visit in the evening. Ava was in a room with four other patients and no TV. Lakesha made sure she had a tablet, phone and coloring books.

Lakesha couldn’t be there for the first chemotherapy infusion. And Ava was nervous and didn’t like to be away from “Mummy.” On the day Ava was scheduled to start chemotherapy, the doctor said she needed to meet with Lakesha. They now had a second opinion from a Canadian hospital. 

Ava did not have lymphoma. She had neuroblastoma. 

At the end of the meeting, the doctor told Lakesha she had contacted St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States.

“When she said St. Jude would take her, I had so much hope. I think the word hope came out of my mouth,” she said. 

Lakesha went home and waited for the call.

“I was like, ‘God, I need this call,’” she recalled. 

Lakesha and her daughter Ava, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States

When the call came, relief washed over her.

Within a few days, they were on a plane to Memphis. 

“Everything fell into place.”

They arrived at midnight and nurses were waiting at the hospital doors. 

Lakesha finally felt at ease. They were given housing at Tri Delta Place and Ava was back at the hospital later that day for tests.

St. Jude confirmed the diagnosis was neuroblastoma. 

The doctor showed Lakesha Ava’s scans.

“She said, ‘Wherever you see red, it’s cancer.’ And when she pulled up that picture, the whole left side was red. Her neck was red, and she had two spots on her thigh bone, and she had a spot on her spine,” Lakesha recalled. 

And the doctor reassured Lakesha that she’d done nothing wrong.

Still, that moment was her breaking point, she said. 

Ava is her only child.

“Why? And that was my question for so long: Why? … People have so many kids, and all of them are well,” she said. “My one is sick.” 

After the first round of chemotherapy, Lakesha noticed Ava’s neck went back to normal.

Lakesha and her daughter Ava, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States

After Ava finished five rounds of chemotherapy, there was no evidence of disease. 

That good news came the second week of December in 2022. Ava had turned 7 in October.

“That was the best Christmas gift,” Lakesha said. 

Ava had a stem cell transplant, radiation therapy, and she is near the end of immunotherapy. After more than a year at St. Jude, they hope to be home by Christmas. Now 8, all Ava wants is to go to the beach and for everyone in the family to be there together.

Lakesha no longer feels the need to pay close attention to Ava’s neck. Instead, she looks at Ava’s face, focuses on how tall she’s grown, how mature she is, and how big her personality has gotten. 

“As a mother, your child having cancer is the last thing you want to hear. It’s the absolute last thing you want to hear about your child or any other child. But when you get here, and you see the doctors and the nurses and the techs care about your child’s health just as much as you, it gives you a feeling that, ‘Hey, it’s gonna be ok,’” Lakesha said.

Lakesha and her daughter Ava, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States

The folks at St. Jude are like family. 

“You’re never going to forget them,” Lakesha said.

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