When Ava Kate Hollingsworth was first diagnosed with cancer, she didn’t have any symptoms. Her parents, Lisa and Shane, noticed a bump on her stomach one day, and an ultrasound later revealed then 3-year-old Ava Kate had a large mass that required surgery.
“It was her birthday the day we went in to Children’s of Alabama to meet with Dr. Robert Russell, her surgeon,” Lisa said. “Dr. Russell told us that it was more than likely cancer, but he couldn’t be sure until they did a biopsy. He could see our fear. No one ever expects to hear their child might have cancer. He set up a port placement and a biopsy quickly so we never had to sit and just wait.”
Ava Kate had a Wilms tumor, a type of kidney cancer that’s common in children. It was too large to remove, so chemotherapy was started first to shrink the tumor before surgery. “Dr. Russell answered all the questions he could and really put himself in our shoes,” Lisa said. “He never left us wondering or waiting.”
Ava Kate endured six weeks of chemo before undergoing surgery to remove not only the tumor, but also her kidney. Thankfully, the chemo worked and the surgery was a success. After 30 more weeks of chemo and six rounds of radiation, Ava Kate was in remission. But after a few months, she fell ill. “We thought at first it was a stomach bug, but it just continued on,” Lisa said. “We knew something wasn’t right.”
Multiple appointments with the doctor led to a CT scan of Ava Kate’s brain. It revealed Ava Kate had a brain tumor and she was sent back to Children’s. Said Lisa, “We met with Dr. Jeffrey Blount and he let me know that he had already spoken with Dr. Russell, our previous surgeon, and that their number one goal was Ava Kate’s health and removing that tumor with as little trauma to her as possible. While we never want to hear ‘mass’ or ‘brain surgery,’ his words and confidence gave us peace.”
Surgery revealed Ava Kate had an ependymoma unrelated to her previous cancer. “The surgery went great as Dr. Blount felt confident he got the entire mass,” Lisa said. “She had no side effects from the surgery, so it was a blessing.”
After 30 rounds of radiation, Ava Kate was again in remission. But after two years of being cancer free, the family heard those words once again – Ava Kate had cancer. “We had gone in for a routine scan like we had done so many times, but after a while we could tell something was wrong,” Lisa said. “Dr. Zachary Leblanc came in and told us there was a suspicious spot.”
Ava Kate underwent surgery again to remove the tumor – a recurring ependymoma. Though the surgeon was able to completely remove the tumor, the surgery affected Ava Kate’s ability to talk, swallow and walk. In addition to radiation and chemo, Ava Kate had physical and occupational therapies. Eventually, she regained her ability to eat, speak, and walk out of the hospital on her own. Now 8 years old, Ava Kate is officially cancer free and back in school.
“We still have a long road ahead of us, but she has been blessed,” Lisa said. “We go back to Children’s periodically for scans and they have been clear thus far. We couldn’t be more appreciative of all of the doctors at Children’s who have made Ava Kate their priority and did everything they could to help her. They made difficult situations a little easier because we knew she was being taken care of.”