Isabella was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was only 17 months old. Get to know Isabella, and her strength and survival story, through her Mom, Claudia.
Isabella, she is a spitfire. She's the strongest and bravest person I know. I am just honored and blessed to be her mommy.
Isabella was diagnosed with a very rare form of a brain tumor called Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor (ATRT). ATRT is an extremely aggressive brain tumor. It doesn't have a stage; it is just considered stage four. A week before her diagnosis, she just started randomly vomiting. One night, we were playing with her and she fell to the floor, just like a typical toddler. She was in the downward dog position and she couldn't physically lift herself up. It was definitely something that was physically not working with her.
We went to the pediatrician and told her about Isabella’s symptoms. She noticed that Isabella had a slight head tilt to the left. Very calmly, our pediatrician recommended that we get a CAT scan. You never imagine the magnitude of what could really happen, obviously, but lo and behold, we were waiting and the technician came in and she said, "We just need you to take a seat, because the radiologist needs to talk to you." I asked her did they find something, and they told me that they had found a mass in Isabella's brain.
All of a sudden that false sense of security gets shattered and you are no longer looking at a family that has cancer, you have all of a sudden become one.
The prognosis for ATRT is 20% survival rate. As a result of the aggressive nature of the tumor, it has to be treated equally as aggressive. Isabella got every single aggressive chemotherapy that exists out there. Even our oncologist, Dr. Amy Smith, had her concerns to whether or not Isabella was able to even survive treatment because of the harshness of it.
Darren, Isabella’s dad, would be the first to tell you that the staff at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, they were phenomenal. Those moments where you see people doing everything they can to make sure that your daughter stays alive, you really gain a lot of trust and respect for them.
Isabella was, and is still, a fighter. We call her our little lion. She endured 13 months of treatment, three surgeries, 15 rounds of chemotherapy, 30 rounds of radiation and months of living in the hospital. And now, she is cancer free!
There's no evading the prognosis that one day our daughter’s cancer could return. We live three months at a time, in between scans. There is no way to explain how difficult scan days are. You spend your in between scan time trying to avoid thinking about cancer, trying to return to normalcy and trying to live life to the fullest because you never know what the future holds. Then, scan day arrives, and you are catapulted right back to the memories of illness, fear and even death.
When it gets close to scan date, our anxiety level goes through the roof. It's something where you just have to hold your chin up, you have to look at your kids, and you have to say, "I'm not scared." To do that takes a lot of courage, but as a parent you've got to do what's right for your family. – Darren, Isabella’s Dad
Every time we hear those words “she’s clear”, I get my daughter back. I get my own life back and I breathe. And usually shed a tear of joy. For me, being a cancer mom has changed me. It has both softened and hardened me. I live more in the present as a result of being terrified of the future and saddened by the past.
Today, we are almost 2.5 years out of treatment. Isabella is just a normal kid. She has become a big sister, started school, and turned 5 years old! She's living life. She's living a life like any other kid, and nothing is stopping her, or us for that matter.
I can't imagine my life without her, and I don't imagine my life without her.