During the early days of first grade, we notice a change in Valerie’s behavior, physical ability and cognitive ability. She was consistently tired and irate and tripped frequently. Although she was a strong-willed child, she was throwing uncharacteristic temper tantrums and showed regression at school, even writing her number backwards.
At the time we had a 5 month old baby and, unfortunately, associated some of her early issues to possible sibling jealousy and that maybe she was trying to imitate her baby sister to call our attention.
Eventually, her physical exhaustion combined with some new physical changes, such as a droopy eye and slowness of speech made us realize something was horribly wrong.
On March 9th 2005 we expressed our concern to our pediatrician who gave us an immediate appointment. She noticed dilation in her eyes and weakness of the left side of her body. Her doctor, suspecting the worst, immediately order an MRI of the brain and 3 hours later our daughter was diagnosed with a large brain tumor which was in contact with her cerebellum. Those few words from the radiologist turned our life upside down. I could only equate the feeling to that of utterly shattered dreams.
We found ourselves in Dallas and away from our families, with a new born child and a seriously ill daughter. We needed the best hospital, doctors and nurses to care for our beautiful girl. Her doctor referred us to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. Valerie was admitted the same day she was diagnosed but we had to wait for 5 days for the swelling on her brain to be controlled so she could have brain surgery. After almost 8 hours of surgery the neurosurgeon came out of the OR to notify us that Valerie had brain cancer.
Her treatment involved about a year of chemotherapy and radiation managed by her wonderful pediatric oncologist. She required surgery to repair crossed eyes as a result of surgery and she would eventually require physical, occupational and speech therapy.
After treatment, she was declared in remission as there was no sign of the tumor. Although, she had to complete her treatment protocol, these were the best news a parent could ever wish for.
Unfortunately, she’s had to live with many adverse side-effects from her life-saving treatment. She is considered learning disabled due to mental processing speed and short-term memory problems, which also lead to slow speech. She also suffers from fine motor control, balance and strength problems.
Nevertheless, Valerie is now a 20 year old beautiful, hardworking, responsible young lady. She finished high school with a certificate because a full diploma was out of her reach due to her learning disabilities. Thankfully, the school district offered an internship program at a hospital and, as a result, she earned her high school diploma. She is currently working as an assistant teacher in a day care and is learning how to drive. The verdict is still out on the driving.
As parents, we are grateful for everything her doctors, nurses and researchers did to save our daughter’s life. But we can only hope that further research on the matter of childhood cancer will someday lead to, not only more effective treatments, but less barbaric treatments with no permanent side-effects.