Fighting for Kate's Life

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KatePhoto_small.jpgHolly McRae is the mother of 6-year-old Kate, who was diagnosed last June with a malignant, very aggressive brain tumor called a supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumor or sPNET. Kate underwent a craniotomy with tumor resection on July 3, 2009, in Phoenix, but surgeons were only able to remove 50% of the tumor due to its location in the left temporal lobe of her brain. Since that time, Kate has received other treatments, most recently here at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center under the care of Anita Mahajan, M.D.

Holly and Kate recently returned to Phoenix after a two-month stay in Houston for proton therapy treatment. Here, Holly shares both the pain and the hope that her family has experienced as they move day by day through Kate's cancer journey.

By: Holly McRae

Brain radiation. It is the one thing we had so desperately hoped to avoid in Kate's journey. The thought made me tremble. The potential side effects were seemingly more than we were willing to put our precious 6-year-old through. And yet, our choices were few.

We had already gone through a subtotal resection of the aggressive tumor that was invading her brain. We had completed five rounds of intense and debilitating chemotherapy, along with another round of high-dose chemo and a stem cell transplant. And there it still remained. A little bit of unwelcome, life-changing cancer still lingering in Kate's brain.

Devastating doesn't cover it. So we knew she needed radiation if we were going to keep fighting. And not fighting - well that was nowhere in the equation.

After many tears, much prayer, talking with Kate's doctors and doing a little digging of our own, we decided to temporarily move to Houston to seek out a potentially much-improved and more targeted form of radiation called proton therapy. We knew it came with a little risk, for there was far less long-term data in relation to this treatment in children compared with traditional radiation. However, we also knew that if the long-term studies proved what doctors were hoping, the long-term side effects could be dramatically reduced.

So we took the plunge. We moved to a city we knew nothing about and where we knew no one, and started proton beam radiation to Kate's brain.

I will never forget the first few times we left her on the treatment table, asleep, knowing everyone else would need to leave the potentially hazardous room as the proton radiation poured into her still-developing brain. I wanted to run back in and rescue her. But me saving her from radiation wouldn't save her from cancer. And so with many tears, the proton radiation began.

It is weird how something you dread with everything in you can be something you also learn to cherish. Each day we would whisper a prayer in our daughter's ear before the proton treatment would begin. Many times the prayers were tearful pleas that God would use this treatment to save our daughter's life.

I will never forget looking into the kind faces of the Proton Therapy Center staff who had learned to love our daughter. There is an enormous difference between those who take care of your child as a job and those who use it as a ministry. We were so deeply grateful that we experienced the latter. We felt a bit of comfort in a journey that provides very little room to be comforted.

Another blessing amidst the deep pain was the families of other children we met during treatment at the Proton Therapy Center. There was no need to hide the deep anguish with them. They most likely felt the sting of cancer just as deeply. They were strangers who became friends, somehow united by tragedy. All praying that proton therapy would be part of the healing that would take place in our children's bodies.

The cancer had different names for all of us, slightly different courses of treatment and different prognoses. But we all had one thing in common: We were all fighting to get a chance to see our children grow up.

We were fortunate to be able to celebrate Kate's last day of proton treatment with three other families that had journeyed through proton therapy with us. The kids all hit the gong as they celebrated their graduation. One year earlier we thought Kate would be graduating from kindergarten, instead it was from proton radiation to her brain.

Life is uncertain. However, we are learning to count each day as a blessing and each milestone in our journey as a gift. This was a milestone and well worth celebrating. Our Kate was still fighting. And we believe she's winning.

For us, proton treatment was the end of Kate's treatment. However, we are far from the end of our journey. When cancer has touched your family, the journey doesn't just end with treatment. It just changes. We felt elated and terrified. No more long hospitalizations. No more debilitating treatments. We could live at home as a family again, all under one roof. The thought was overwhelming.

And yet, we are still waiting to receive a clean scan. We are waiting to see what the proton treatment has done. Some days the waiting feels just as hard as the treatments. It can be terrifying. No more thinking the next round of chemo or the next proton radiation treatment will get what was left behind. Those treatments are done. So we wait.

We wait and plead with God to heal our daughter, and we thank Him for the many people He has placed in our journey, those who have cared for our Kate and those who have cared for us, too. The joy intermingled in the sorrow.

Kate's first MRI since completion of proton therapy will take place on June 29, a year to the day that she was diagnosed with cancer.

MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center
Patient Power: Proton Therapy for Pediatric Cancer (Audio)


Kind thoughts and support for the Holly, Kate and her family posted by the fans on Facebook.

M. Zorn
Prayers for Kate!!!! My daughter's name is Kate too. :) MD Anderson is a special and magical place where amazing miracles come true! ♥
6/15/10 at 5:15pm

L. Martin
I've had the honor of meeting kate and her parents, such an amazing family.
6/15/10 at 5:27pm

K. Lucinda Crowell
At 8 years old, I received radiation treatment for my brain tumor,19 years ago. My prayers are with you Kate, you can do it :) God bless!
6/15/10 at 5:28pm

I. Fullen Thomson
I am praying for you Kate baby
6/15/10 at 5:33pm

M. Hasan
I'm touched, and hoping a full recovery.
6/15/10 at 5:41pm

P. Bennett
As one who has "banged the Gong" myself at MD Anderson, my prayers go out to Kate and her family.
6/15/10 at 5:49pm

T. Davenport
Hardee Oh my goodness, I have tears in my eyes. Prayers for beautiful little Kate and her family.
6/15/10 at 5:53pm

K. Grier Nevill
Praying for Kate & her family.
6/15/10 at 6:11pm

J. Winter
I am praying for Kate and her family. God's hands are wrapped around Kate and protecting her. M.D. Anderson is an awesome place. God bless you.
6/15/10 at 6:18pm

L. Painter
You and your mom are in my prayers little Kate, you are in good hands
6/15/10 at 6:46pm

J. Nicholson
kate is a beautiful child and i pray her scan is clean . mda is awesome ! i have 5 more treatments till i ring the bell at the head and neck center and move back home to madison Ms. God is good all the time and I know He has an awesome plan for her life
6/15/10 at 6:52pm

F. Price
God bless you and your loved ones, Kate!
6/15/10 at 7:22pm

J. Bauer
Kate and her family will be in the thoughts of so many people on June 29, when Kate has her MRI. Sending you all the very best wishes!! ♥
6/15/10 at 7:34pm

C. Connell
I, too, am a cancer survivor. I will pray for Kate and your family. My heart is with you.

C. Morgan Barker
Katie you ands your family are in my prayers you are in the BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD!! I pray for the miricle to happen for you! My husband died from AML but it was not MD Andersons fault we should have gone there 1st and he would still be here with me. Blessing on all of you

R. Jackie Ybarra
Believing God will heal Kate in Jesus name! Please visit Lakewood Church Joel Osteen and have his mother Dodie pray over Kate!
God is a God of miracles! we are believing with you for Kate's miracle!

What beautiful angel! God is working miracles every day and I pray for Kate! May God send many blessings your way! Thank you for sharing your touched me!

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