Kids with Cancer

Gia’s Journey: Joining Team Gia and Fighting Childhood Cancer

by St. Baldrick's Foundation
August 28, 2012

When Gianna was born, I felt like a missing piece had found its place, our family was complete. Gianna joined her two older siblings, Samantha and Derek Jr., and for the first 16 months, our lives were chaotic, fun-filled, exhausting, and exciting – there was never a dull moment.

I can close my eyes and vividly remember last Halloween. The kids’ costumes, the candy, the cool fall air and Gia on my hip in her favorite kitty cat costume. She ran a fever of 101 that night, but nothing else seemed to be wrong.

During the next few days, Gia threw up a couple of times, and while I thought it was a virus, I felt unsettled. On Saturday, I noticed blood in her diaper, and looking closer, saw a protrusion that should not have been there. With shaking hands, I dialed our pediatrician. But while on hold, I hung up and took Gia straight to the emergency room. During our ER visit on Saturday and our second on Sunday, followed by several phone calls, my alarm was dismissed and ignored. But on Wednesday, we met pediatrician, Dr. Timothy Pittinger. He had a biopsy done, and within the week, Gia was diagnosed with embryonic botryoid rhabdomyosarcoma.

“It is a growth,” he said. My brain tried to reject what I heard and I asked him what he meant by “growth.” As I heard the word CANCER, I could no longer feel my legs and the room began to spin. I was holding Gia on my left hip and could see my beautiful daughter out of the corner of my eye. I looked up and cried out for Jesus to help us.

We were quickly sent across the hospital to oncology and I will always remember the walk and elevator ride there. My husband was sobbing and I felt some surreal surge of strength and told him, “Don’t you dare give up on her, she will beat this.”

Our wonderful oncologist at Akron Children’s Hospital placed Gia on a Children’s Oncology Group treatment protocol – Gia’s best chance for a cure. Gia’s protocol includes:

  • Overnight chemo in the hospital every 3rd week
  • Surgical exams every 6-8 weeks
  • CT scan every 3 months for 18 months following the end of treatment Because of this treatment protocol, August 21st marked 6 months to the day that Dr. Pittinger told us the tumor was GONE! That’s six months of remission to celebrate! We believe in our doctors and thank God for this miracle.

What have I learned from Childhood Cancer? I have learned to never, ever, take one moment of life for granted. It is beyond precious, a gift. Each second of each day is a gift. Each day that I am granted the blessing to care for my 3 children is a gift. We are not the same family we were a year ago, we are changed to the core. I plead to parents to love their children deeply every day.

Our doctors told us we won the wrong lottery, and in fact we did. It turns out that Rhabdomyosarcoma affects approximately 350 children per year in the United States, and narrowing it down to Gia’s type, approximately 10 children per year. My husband Derek and my 3-year-old son Derek Jr. shaved their heads this year in honor of Gia. This is only the beginning of the story to her life; there will be much, much more to come… CANCER FREE!

Read more Childhood Cancer Awareness Month stories or get involved with a St. Baldrick’s event near you!