Childhood Cancer

Willow Henke

Willow is a 6-year-old girl with a mom, dad and brother. She lives in Northwestern Montana, where her dad manages a heavy equipment dealership. Just as her family was getting back to normal with her brother arriving and mother going back to work, Willow became very ill. She was getting terrible headaches and her family searched for a reason why. Finally, after none of the local doctors could provide answers, they decided to travel to the nearest children's hospital. The only problem was, it was eight hours away, in Seattle.
The family packed up and drove to Seattle Children’s Hospital. They performed an array of tests and diagnosed Willow with a rare form of brain cancer. The cancer had caused her to lose all vision in her right eye and was responsible for her headaches. Due to the location and size of the tumor, her doctors chose to monitor the tumor for growth. Willow and her family had to return to Seattle every three months for vision screenings, MRIs and consultations with the doctors.
In October, they returned to Seattle for Willow’s fourth trip since her diagnosis. What was thought to be a quick check-up trip turned into a nine-week stay, as Willow’s tumor grew. She began chemotherapy immediately and couldn't return home right away like they thought she would. Her dad stayed for her first surgery and chemo-infusion, but then returned to Montana for work so they could pay for everything. Willow, her brother and her mom stayed in the Ronald McDonald house for the next eight weeks.
After nine weeks in Seattle, they were able to go home to Montana the week before Christmas. Her team of doctors at Seattle Children’s Hospital partnered with a local oncologist so that Willow could receive her chemotherapy infusions in her hometown.
Her family feels blessed for Willow to be able to receive her treatments at home. If everything continues as planned, they will continue to travel every three months for check-ups over the next five years, and then once a year for the rest of her life.

Willow’s family would never have been able to pay for all of the traveling expenses if it weren’t for her family and ALSF’s Travel for Care Program. In addition to the emotional rollercoaster of a cancer diagnosis, they had to fund a 1,000 mile road trip every three months. With the only income coming from her dad, Willow and her family struggled to pay for these trips until ALSF stepped in to help cover gas and hotel expenses.
Willow’s mother knows the stress of a cancer diagnosis for your child is already devastating, and not being able to afford to travel for the care they need is completely indescribable. She thinks no parent should ever have to feel that way and wants others to know that there are people out there, like ALSF, to help you get through those difficult times.