Valentine's Day 2017 will be a day Linda says she will never forget.
Her daughter, Zoe, had been dealing with a bout of what her gastroenterologist diagnosed as traveler’s diarrhea for about two months and wasn’t getting better, despite trying multiple antibiotics to treat it. The doctor assured Linda that it just took time for it to run its course, but her mother’s intuition told her that something wasn’t quite right. Linda finally decided enough was enough, and on February 14, she headed to the Emergency Department at Children’s Medical Center Plano for answers.
“My husband joined me at the ER to wait for the results and within an hour, the doctor came back and told us Zoe had leukemia,” says Linda.
She was just 11 months old.
Zoe and her family were transported by ambulance to the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Health℠ in Dallas. The Gill Center is the largest childhood cancer and blood disorders center in the region and is ranked as one of the top pediatric oncology programs in the U.S. News & World Report Best Children’s Hospitals list. The team of more than 250 physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, social workers, child life specialists, nutritionists and many others care for one out of every five children diagnosed with cancer in the state of Texas, totaling more than 1,000 new patients each year.
Zoe received a blood transfusion and was admitted into the intensive care unit, where she underwent surgery for a bone marrow biopsy, spinal tap and to place a central line to prepare for treatment, under the care of Kathleen Ludwig, M.D., pediatric oncologist at Children's Health.
The biopsy revealed she had acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and would require several months of inpatient chemotherapy, which she began later that day.
"Telling a family that an 11 month old has an aggressive leukemia is never easy, but Zoe's family has handled every hurdle that has been placed in front of them with grace,” says Dr. Ludwig. “Therapy for AML is a long, intense treatment that is administered over 6-8 months in the hospital. This is taxing on a family and can be very scary. Luckily, Zoe had a great response to her first month of chemotherapy and was able to tolerate all five courses of chemotherapy with a smile on her face."
It wasn’t easy staying in the hospital for so long, but Zoe remained her usual happy self, despite her intense treatments, and was known to be quite a social butterfly.
“She waved to everyone — and I do mean everyone,” Linda says. “Doctors, nurses, child life specialists, other families — you name it. And when she learned to blow kisses, she sent those to everyone as well.”
Linda tried to keep Zoe in a routine each day, spending time in the playroom whenever it was open, enjoying art projects that volunteers brought in each Tuesday and admiring Blair, one of the pet therapy dogs at Children’s Health, though sometimes from afar.
Zoe’s last dose of chemotherapy was June 28, 2017, and she went home about three weeks later after her central line was removed. Linda says the biggest thing they were looking forward to when they got home was just getting back to normal.
“We were so excited for Zoe to take a bath when she got home since she couldn’t take one during treatment,” says Linda. “Next, we’re looking forward to going swimming once the stitches from her central line have healed.”
Zoe’s cancer is officially in remission, and she will have monthly follow-up visits at Children’s Health for the next year. Her family is anxiously awaiting the day when she can be officially declared “cancer-free,” and until then Linda says they’ll enjoy every single day, holiday and milestone they have together.