As with all of her children, it was when Linda saw the first image of her tiny daughter that it felt like she was really hers.
That initial connection came not through a sonogram but a photograph of her fourth child, Emma, who made her entrance into the family from China a few months later.
“The picture is what’s pretty amazing,” said Linda. “It was love at first sight.”
Ten-month-old Emma joined a seven-year-old sister, also from China, plus two older brothers, Linda and husband David’s biological children.
Life was good as Emma excelled in school, played softball, and was growing up. Then in the spring of 2014 she got sick. There were headaches. She lost her voice. She lost 10 percent of her body weight. Her pediatrician kept insisting it was a virus.
“That went on almost a month,” Emma’s mom said. When Emma was finally admitted to the hospital, an MRI showed a brain tumor encasing her entire left ventricle and making its way toward the right.
“You immediately think of the future – a future possibly without her,” Linda said. “But that is so brief. We’re a family that wants to find solutions, and we’re not going to waste our time crying. We were going to find out how to help her. She didn’t deserve anything less than that.”
Emma’s doctors didn’t mention proton therapy, but Linda did research online and discovered it as a treatment option particularly ideal for pediatric patients. Unlike traditional radiation, protons deposit their energy directly at the targeted tumor, avoiding unnecessary radiation to surrounding healthy tissue. This key differentiator is especially important for a growing, developing brain.
At first they were planning to travel to a treatment center in Seattle, but then Linda decided to call Provision CARES Proton Therapy to discuss Emma’s tumor, which she described as relatively rare and very aggressive.
“One of the biggest reasons we chose Provision is that the doctor really did his due diligence,” Linda said. “He spent a lot of time talking to experts who knew about Emma’s cancer.”
Eventually, Provision doctors concluded that Emma was a candidate for proton therapy.
Her treatment plan started with surgery, which removed a portion of Emma’s tumor. Next came six rounds of chemotherapy, followed with a subsequent high-dose round, attempting to further reduce the cancer cells remaining in her body. Then there was a stem cell transplant to boost recovery of her white blood cells. After this physical onslaught, including months spent in and out of the hospital, Emma’s treatment at Provision finally began.
“Emma had been through quite a bit over the prior year, and Provision was wonderful. I’m a huge advocate for proton therapy,” said Linda.
The road to recovery was not over after treatment. Emma struggled with her appetite. Linda knew that Emma’s return to school would also be challenging, as she battled the lingering effects of chemo and a year practically lost because of her illness.
Despite all that, her mom said Emma endured amazingly. “She’s stoic, she’s stubborn, and that’s really what got her through it.”
She had no self-consciousness about her surgery scar or her hair loss, and through the surgery, chemo, and physical challenges, Emma’s mom said she never shed a tear.
The experience even brought the family closer, especially Emma and her older sister, Sarah, who was a pre-med student at the time. When Emma got sick, Linda said that Sarah’s made it her goal to became pediatric cancer specialist.
With a diagnosis like Emma’s, “your whole life changes,” shared Linda. “It doesn’t end once you’re treated. We don’t know what the future is going to bring. But we’re so thankful to have her.”