PALM DESERT, Calif. - Neuroblastoma is the same cancer of the nervous system many people in the Coachella Valley heard about for the first time because of a local girl named Desi, who passed away in February. Unfortunately, Desi was not the only child afflicted with neuroblastoma, and the recent diagnosis of a La Quinta 5-year old named Riley Rose Sherman is a reminder that the fight against pediatric cancer is not over. Pediatric Cancer Awareness month begins September 1.
Click here to see how the community is rallying around the Shermans to help them financially and emotionally.
It's the first day of school at Sacred Heart in Palm Desert. But Kristin Sherman is walking to kindergarten without her daughter, Riley Rose.
"I bought all her supplies in July before we left for vacation. I ironed all her uniforms, and instead of taking my baby to kindergarten, I have to cut her hair, and give her chemo," Sherman said tearfully.
Kristin is a long time educator for Desert Sands Unified School District, well known for her position at Shadow Hills High School, and now, as a 5th grade teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Indio. Riley's father is Rick Sherman, who recently moved the family back to the Coachella Valley from a one year stint in Texas while working for Hobby Lobby. Riley turned five in July. Her brother Matthew is just two and a half.
"Just before we went on vacation to Montana (at the beginning of August)," Kristin Sherman recalled, "(Riley) was just telling me her knees were hurting, and you know, honestly, I thought it was growing pains."
The family had a great ten days, running around after bunnies, and going fishing, but "She just kept asking my husband to hold her, 'Hold me, hold me Daddy,'" Sherman said.
When they got home, Riley had a fever and the Shermans went to their pediatrician.
"He checked her all out and said, 'I see nothing here,'" remembered Kristin. "So I took (Riley) home, she rested, and she was fine, but then she started to get nauseous. When she woke up on Saturday morning, she wouldn't get out of bed."
Riley went to urgent care, then Eisenhower Medical Center, where she underwent a battery of tests. She was transferred to Loma Linda University Children's Hospital, and finally Children's Hospital Orange County (CHOC).
"On Monday the 22nd (of August), they took us in a room and told us that our baby had stage four neuroblastoma. And that it had spread to the bone marrow," recalled Kristin.
Bloodwork Riley had in March showed no signs of cancer. When Riley was admitted to CHOC last week, the tumor had already spread from her kidneys and was pressing on her spinal cord. Doctors say the neuroblastoma was aggressive.
Now the Shermans are looking to the community for help. A website has been set up to help provide meals, and raise funds to help pay for Riley's treatment. Kristin Sherman says out-of-pocket medical costs are estimated at between $100,000 and $250,000 over the next 15 months.
Elyssa Rubin, MD, is the director of the Bone and Soft Tissue Tumor program at CHOC. She spoke with Brooke Beare about the signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma, the second most common solid tumor in pediatrics.
"Most often nothing in a blood test will pick this up," explained Rubin. "The most common presentation is that the belly looks poofed out, or a pediatrician picks up on it. Unfortunately, since neuroblastoma often starts in the glands above the kidneys called the adrenal glands, and the kidneys are at the back of the body, it's not noticed until it gets quite large."
Pain and constipation could also be symptoms, as well as bruising.
However, Rubin said parents should continue to routine check-ups and blood screenings for their children. A specialized urine test can sometimes pick up on neuroblastoma as well.
"Pediatric cancer is rare," said Rubin. "We've made big improvements over the last 15 years. If a patient responds well to therapy and is able to complete the course of treatment as prescribed, cure rates could be as high as 66 percent. When I started practicing, cure rates were 20 percent."
The most common age for neuroblastoma is between infancy and 5 or 6 years old. It is rarely seen past the age of 10. Rubin explained that there are no known risk factors. A very small percentage of neuroblastoma cases are familiar, but a majority of the time it is not genetic.