• Olney High School Cheerleader Emma Barrington hold up Carliegh Symank while the cheerleading team raised funds for the Cooks Children Hospital Solid Tumor Research Fund.  Jimmy Potts/Enterprise

Olney child recovering from battle with cancer

Carleigh Symank seems like a normal, energetic 3-year-old, but because of a cancer diagnosis a couple years ago, she has already overcome many obstacles that some never face. 

On Dec. 16, 2014, Carleigh’s mom, Jennifer Symank, received a call from the school daycare saying that Carleigh was running a fever and needed to be picked up. They met with their family doctor the next day and were told that it was a virus that had to be waited out. Within the next few days her fever had broken and she seemed like she was back to her normal self. They continued with their family Christmas celebrations. Throughout the weekend, Carleigh still seemed a bit sluggish, but continued to play around like normal. Towards the end of the weekend, Carleigh’s parents noticed that her left eye was slightly black but assumed she had tripped and bumped it on something. 

Skipping ahead to Christmas Eve, they noticed some swelling on her left temple. During a party she would ask to be held at random times, which was out of character for the normally independent girl. This behavior lasted into Christmas Day. The day after Christmas was when they knew that something had to be wrong. Normally she enjoyed playing with her cousins and sister, but all she wanted was to be held and sleep. She ate and 

played very little, and she didn’t want to be put down. Along with the bump on her temple, her parents also noticed Carleigh’s neck was beginning to swell. The next few days were nothing but trips to several different doctors, all saying it was a virus that had to be waited out. Then, on Dec. 31, 2014, a doctor in Seymour, Dr. Toni Chu, sent Carleigh to the ER for CT scans the second she saw her. 

“After the scan results came back, our world changed forever,” said Symank.

There were growths in her stomach, neck, and in her face. The doctor told them it looked like Neuroblastoma, a specific cancer that begins near the adrenal gland.

After being treated from Jan. 1, 2015, to March 3, 2016, Carleigh’s mother says she is now doing great. She was diagnosed when she was 16 months old, so she had just started getting used to running and walking a lot, but there were times where she had to stay in bed for weeks due to treatment. Now she is jumping, running, and tumbling like a normal 3-year-old. The only issue she is still facing is that one of the tumors broke through her palate and caused her teeth to shift, and the chemo caused cavities as well. Carleigh will have surgery on Oct. 19 to fix her teeth and to remove the port they hooked up to her for chemo. 

Symank related some facts about childhood cancer, which is the number one disease killer of children with more deaths than asthmas, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and pediatric AIDS combined. Forty-six children are diagnosed every day. One in every 300 children will develop cancer before they reach the age of 19. Only 4 percent of the almost $5 billion federal budget for the National Cancer Institute goes to all 12 types of childhood cancers. There are several hundred adult cancer treatments in development, and none for childhood cancer. Half of the chemotherapies used for childhood cancer treatment are over 25 years old. 

Neuroblastoma is the most common solid tumor cancer and is the leading cause of cancer death in children below the age of 5. After being diagnosed, Neuroblastoma patients have a 50 percent chance of survival at best, and for those who do survive, there is a 50 percent chance of the cancer returning. If the cancer returns, the survival rates decrease.

 “If you had asked me two years ago what Neuroblastoma was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you,” Symank said.

 The only kid cancer people are familiar about is Leukemia, and even that is still vague. Getting the word out about these cancers and the ways parents can check for them can help catch them early, and catching them early can increase the odds of survival significantly. This month is also to help raise awareness at how little funds these cancers receive and helps people learn about their donation options, whether it be monetary to a family research hospital like Cook Children's, donating hair for wigs, volunteering, or even making food for a family that needs a hot meal. 

“For my family [Childhood Cancer Month] is important because we survived the journey,” said Symank. “But we live in fear of the ‘Big R,’ better known as a relapse. Each year Carleigh’s scans come back clear, the less likely she is to relapse.”

The Olney Enterprise

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