Photo Credit: Flashes of Hope  

As an active 10-year-old girl, Casandra always enjoyed a busy schedule filled with dance classes, art, horseback riding and outdoor activities. So when parents Krystle and Nathan noticed that she was having trouble focusing, they knew something wasn’t quite right.

For over a year, Casandra also struggled with balancing issues, headaches and nausea. In December of 2017, she was diagnosed with ADD and began taking medication. A few months later, her parents noticed that her symptoms were getting progressively worse as doctors tried a few other medicines. Over Memorial Day weekend in 2018, Casandra experienced her worst headache and bout of nausea yet, prompting yet another visit to the doctor.

This time, the doctor ordered a CT scan which revealed that Casandra had severe hydrocephalus — a severe buildup of fluid in the brain. The radiologist recommended an immediate visit to the Vanderbilt Children’s ER, where neurologists ordered an MRI that ultimately revealed a mass located near her brainstem and cerebellum. An eight-hour surgery followed to excise the tumor and insert an external drain that would remove the buildup of fluid. Unfortunately, the neurosurgeon was unable to remove the tumor in its entirety as it was attached to the brainstem and cerebellum. A second surgery followed, called an endoscopic third ventriculostomy (ETV), to create a path for the spinal fluid in her brain to drain. 

Following the surgery on June 8, 2018, Casandra and her family received a preliminary pathology report that revealed a diagnosis of pilocytic astrocytoma, a slow-growing type of brain tumor. Luckily, the tumor was low grade and benign, but because surgeons couldn’t remove the entire tumor, Casandra would have to start chemotherapy to keep it from growing. 

Casandra started chemo, as well as physical therapy and occupational therapy, and began showing improvement. However, after her usual 3-month MRI check-in on March 3, 2019, the neuro-oncologist revealed some disheartening news: there was cell activity in the tumor, meaning the chemo wasn’t working.

At this point, Casandra and her family are keeping their hopes up and awaiting the next doctor appointment to find out what her new treatment regimen will be.  

“Watching Casandra have to go through all of the surgeries and treatments have been difficult,” says Krystle of her experience, “[but] this little girl never ceases to amaze me. Casandra is so strong!”

Every child who has been diagnosed with childhood cancer inspires us to Rally On to find better treatments with fewer long-term side effects and, ultimately, cures. Please join us in the fight against childhood cancer by making a donation or setting up your own Rally fundraiser today.

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