The headaches started
During the summer of 2012, Ellie, a healthy, smart, regular ten-year-old girl who was into fashion, teen heart-throbs and school friends began complaining of mild headaches. As her mother, I was not too concerned and she didn't even complain enough for me to offer her medication for them. We just thought she was spending way too much time on the computer. When she started waking up in the mornings with headaches, we still didn't think there was much cause for alarm. After a visit to the pediatrician and a prescription for antibiotics for a sinus infection, we were given instructions from our doctor to come back if the headaches continued after the course of antibiotics was completed.
In the early morning hours of Sunday, October 1st, Ellie woke up with excruciating headache pain and was vomiting. I gave her some ibuprofen and she managed to fall back to sleep. Later that day, her pediatrician ordered a brain MRI and we went home, to rest for the day. Her headache had abated somewhat, but she still didn't feel well and was vomiting quite a bit. The next morning she was still vomiting, and she had a slight headache, so I kept her off school to rest some more assuming that she probably had a migraine which runs down the female side of family. The next day we even went shopping and she seemed to be doing better. By the time the MRI was scheduled on the Friday morning, I had sent her back to school and she was doing well. No more vomiting or headaches, so I almost canceled the MRI thinking it was just one of those things.
Shocking news just five days later...
Something told me we probably ought to go ahead with it, just to make sure, and on the morning of October 5th, Ellie had the MRI. She is terrified of needles and didn't want to take the contrast injection so this was my biggest concern. As time went on, the MRi became more and more complex, more tests were ordered and we didn't know what on earth was going on. The gentleman performing the exam told us that the pediatrician would be calling later that day. Before we had left the facility, there was a voicemail from the pediatrician asking for a callback and when I did, was told the news no parent wants to hear. To our horror, Ellie was diagnosed with a 4cm brain tumor. She was admitted to the PCH PICU that same day where we met with neurosurgeons and oncologists to be told that she would be undergoing a five hour brain surgery on Monday. The entire family was terrified, and the next few hours were a blur of notifying family members and friends and adjusting to this awful situation.
The staff at PCH could not have been more supportive. We were admitted through the ER and spent the next three nights in the PICU where Ellie was encouraged to have a party since the upcoming week would be difficult and traumatic for her. Saturday was spent entertaining her friends, and we had a constant stream of visitors, gift deliveries and nail painting! Ellie felt like a rockstar, and her room was decorated wonderfully by Child Life with posters of One Direction, streamers, balloons and bright colors. Many doctors, nurses and hospital workers came by her room on the seventh floor to see what everyone had been talking about as she became so famous that week and was known as "the healthiest kid on the floor" for a couple of days!
The longest day - Ellie's brain surgery
On October 8th, the longest day of our lives began. Ellie was prepared for surgery and was placed under anesthesia in the morning for her pre-surgery PET scan. In total she was under for approximately eight hours. Dr. Bhardwaj was able to remove her entire tumor, and when she came back to her room, while she was in tremendous pain, she was talking and moving voluntarily which made us all breathe a huge sigh of relief. The nurses and surgeons kept us apprised of Ellie's condition throughout the surgery and again, we felt continually supported during the entire ordeal.
Success and recovery for Ellie
In total, we stayed seven nights in the hospital. Three weeks post surgery, Ellie was back at school! She started radiation treatment shortly after and her first post treatment scans were mercifully clear of disease. We are so thankful to the staff and doctors at PCH for their care and concern for Ellie's treatment and we are confident we could never find a more dedicated and competent team for the situation that we found ourselves in.
Ellie will continue to be monitored for the rest of her life, but for now, apart from a large scar on the back of her head, Ellie shows no signs of what she has so recently been through.
Story provided by Claire Yar, Ellie's mom.