Cancer Is No Match for a Courageous Young Girl and Her Loving Family
July 2003 — Hours after learning his 3-year-old daughter had cancer and only a week to live, Michael approached grieving friends and family members gathered outside Christa's hospital room with a request. "Please dry your tears and feel your sadness at home," Michael said. "From now on, it's important that we surround our daughter with laughter and happiness." At the same time, Michelle was making a promise to herself and her daughter that no matter what the future held, she would not leave her daughter's side.
Today, thanks to an outstanding team of healthcare professionals at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital - and the power of family and a positive attitude – Christa is healthy and vibrant and a constant source of joy to all who know her.
A Family Is Tested
Christa was diagnosed with neuroblastoma - a pediatric neurological cancer that starts in the adrenal gland in the abdomen and often spreads to other parts of the body. Approximately 500 children are diagnosed with neuro-blastoma each year in the United States, and most children are diagnosed before age 5. Prognosis, or chance of recovery, depends on the location of the tumor, how far the cancer has spread to surrounding tissue and other parts of the body, and the patient's age at diagnosis. Christa's neuroblastoma was at a final stage. Her tumor was the size of a softball and had spread down her right leg into her knee.
Before her diagnosis, Christa would behave strangely, tiring easily, not wanting to play and experiencing erratic fevers. Christa's parents consulted her pediatrician, but were told nothing was wrong. Later, when Christa developed swollen lymph nodes on one side of her body, the family returned to Christa's pediatrician, who now suspected mononucleosis. Soon after, however, Christa woke in the middle of the night, very pale and complaining of pain in her knee. Michelle made some calls early the next morning and got a new doctor to see her daughter at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital. Three specialists examined Christa, and numerous tests were ordered, including a biopsy of a mass in her lymph nodes. While the doctors initially suspected leukemia, further tests revealed neuroblastoma. "When Christa's oncologist told us she had news on Christa's condition, I could see that it was breaking her heart to find the words."
A team of doctors began a plan of treatment immediately. Christa was hospitalized for 29 days and in the coming months, her treatment included aggressive chemo-therapy, surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy and a stem cell rescue and transplant (at a referred children's healthcare facility). February 2000 marked the final treatment for Christa's cancer, and she hasn't required any medication since.
In addition to receiving care and treatment for her cancer, Christa got something else at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital that was just as essential to her healing. "Christa was constantly surrounded by a family of doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals who were close, caring and committed to her recovery," says Michelle. "To this day, I consider many of these people 'angels.'"
And yes, there was laughter - Christa spending time with other children in the hospital playroom, singing Barney tunes with her radio microphone, making up silly rhymes about her medical treatments and sharing smiles with the hospital's resident clown, Lotsy Dotsy. "Because the hospital was such a warm and special place, Christa never hesitated being there or going back," says Michelle. Michelle also made it a priority to spend as much time together as a family. "Every night during Christa's initial treatment, we'd all sit down to a full meal in her hospital room, brought in by wonderful friends and family."
Every Day a Blessing
Today, Christa is a happy, healthy and spirited seven-year-old who attends Hollywood Hills Elementary. She loves her big brother, her pet beagle Rosie, reading, arts and crafts, and helping her dad, a self-employed landscaper, plant impatiens and daisies in the yard.
Michael and Michelle are extremely grateful for the dedicated care and treatment Christa received at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital - especially since they had no health insurance when Christa became ill. But more important, they're thankful for Christa. "Every day is a blessing. At any moment, it can all change, so thank God for everything you have," says Michelle.