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Primitive Neuroectodermal Tumor (PNET)
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Injuries in high school athletics are commonplace, particularly the case in water polo, a notoriously rough sport. So when 14-year-old Kaitlyn took an elbow to the temple during one of her matches and felt dizzy, her parents presumed it was simply a concussion. They took her to the emergency room to be safe, expecting a quick diagnosis before taking her home to recover.
Instead, in May 2017, doctors discovered something far more deadly lurking in Kaitlyn’s head. A CAT scan revealed a large brain tumor.
“I had no inkling whatsoever it was something like that. We thought they were going to tell us to just take her home and keep an eye on her,” said Jerry, her father.
They transported Kaitlyn to the nearby Loma Linda Children’s Hospital in Loma Linda, CA, about an hour outside Los Angeles, where they performed surgery to remove the tumor from her brain. The doctors diagnosed her with primitive neuroectodermal tumor (PNET), a central nervous system tumor that can spread to the brain or spinal cord.
Following a successful procedure, she underwent seven weeks of proton radiation on her brain and spine. The final stage of treatment is a six-month chemotherapy process. She recently completed her final scheduled chemo treatment and will move on to recovery and physical therapy to address lingering muscle loss issues from the operation.
Throughout the process, it’s been much harder on Kaitlyn’s parents, Jerry and Dana, than their daughter, whose steely resolve is helping her beat this disease.
“She’s like a rock. I don’t think she cried over it once,” said Jerry. “I am supposed to be her strength, but more often than not, she is my strength.”
Kaitlyn can’t attend school during her treatment, but that hasn’t stopped her from maintaining an active lifestyle. A voracious reader, she receives consistent private tutoring and often can be found hanging out with friends or getting back in the pool to train for the day she returns to the water polo team.
To this point, there has been no change in her brain during monthly MRI’s. That’s a good sign and the doctors believe the only thing lingering in her brain is scar tissue. As long as that isn’t growing, they feel confident Kaitlyn can beat her cancer. Her parents believe that wholeheartedly too thanks to Kaitlyn’s optimism.
“Sometimes life deals you things you don’t expect, but what matters is how you handle them,” said Jerry. “The way I watch her handling this, completely inspires me.”
What continues to inspire Kaitlyn is her devotion to playing water polo in college. Throughout her fight, the pool has been a sanctuary to escape in while pursuing her goal of returning to competitive play.
“Getting back to the pool has been great for her motivationally,” said Jerry. “It has kind of become her identity, water polo, she excels at it and has made so many friends within that realm. It really is what she is now.”
Their family has gotten through this ordeal with an ample amount of support from GracePoint Church and friends and family, but Kaitlyn’s parents still felt completely out of their element from the outset. That’s where Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) came in.
“ALSF is a super resource for people like me that didn’t know where to begin. I hardly knew what chemotherapy even meant before this started,” said Jerry. “To be able to read all those kids’ stories and how strong they are, even when they don’t pull through, I can’t explain how much it helps.”
Kaitlyn’s parents and their other kids, Erin and Ryan, are all looking forward to Kaitlyn’s story of strength providing similar assistance to families in need just like they were. With plans to host a lemonade stand and attend local Foundation events, they’re committed to supporting other families blindsided by a cancer diagnosis.
Meanwhile, they anxiously await the end of Kaitlyn’s treatment to start the path towards a full recovery. A path that almost certainly ends back in the pool.
Favorite Quote: “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” – Jim Watkins
Updated March 2018
Information provided by Jerry Horner, Kaitlyn’s father
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