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The “C” Word

March 04, 2019

By Becky McCauley

When Camille McCormack’s 3-year-old Mia said, “Mama, we need to go to the hospital and find out what’s wrong with me,” Camille knew something was very wrong.

Last spring, Mia, who is typically a happy child who loves to sing and dance, began doubling over with pain in her stomach. After several visits to Mia’s primary care doctor who treated her for acid reflux and gastritis, Camille knew it was time to get some answers.

A trip to the Emergency Department (ED) at Arkansas Children’s Hospital changed their lives forever.

Mia’s ED doctor ordered an x-ray and a CT scan. Camille says, “The technicians took a lot of pictures. Then they said they were going to show the doctor and took a long time coming back. It was then that I knew.”

Camille’s precious daughter had cancer.

“The first impression I have of ACH is when I was told about Mia’s diagnosis. The doctor stood with me, held me and cried with me. I know how busy doctors are, and that she could take a moment and empathize with me is one of the many reasons why I chose ACH for Mia’s treatment.”

Unfortunately, Camille has had a lot of experience with cancer, or “the C word,” as she calls it. She’s lost many family members to the C word in recent years, including both parents, her grandmother and her mother-in-law.

Camille, who is a therapist, says, “I don’t use the word ‘cancer’ with Mia. She was with our family members during their illnesses, and she knows they passed away. I don’t want her to relate herself with what happened to them.”

Camille also uses other words for this terrible disease. “Mia is very bright. Very articulate. She’s even asked me directly if she has cancer. I usually answer her, ‘Some people call it that. I like to call it ‘mass’ or ‘tumor,’” she says.

Mia has a rare form of cancer called ganglia neuroblastoma, which are tumors that form in young nerve cells. Physicians described it to Camille as "a hot dog bun" located in Mia’s abdomen between her liver and adrenal gland.

According to Mia's pediatric cancer specialist Dr. Amir Mian, she has “breezed through” her treatment so far with very few complications. Several rounds of chemotherapy shrank the tumor and surgery removed about 98 percent of the mass. Her stem cells were harvested prior to chemo, and she’s since received an infusion of her stem cells to replace the healthy cells lost during chemo. Another stem cell reinfusion and more radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells are in her continued treatment plan.

Although this has been a very difficult, very scary time for Camille, she’s thrilled with the treatment Mia has received at ACH. She wanted to share Mia’s story to show her gratitude to the hospital: “I would do anything for ACH. Mia’s room is so colorful and homey, it’s not cold and sterile. The little details are taken care of so we can focus on the big details. I don’t always get physical rest, but I have peace of mind.”

“Our social worker has been amazing. And the nurses…it’s as if God opened up heaven and let a lot of angels loose. Just walking onto the hematology/oncology unit, you can feel their warmth,” Camille continues.  

The Child Life and Education Department has also been an important part of Mia’s treatment. According to Camille, Mia suffered from night terrors for about two weeks during her first stay at ACH. A staff member referred her to Child Life, who arranged for her to receive both art and music therapy.

Camille points out that Mia has never been reluctant to come to ACH. “That means a lot,” she says. “To have a place where she feels comfortable during this terrible time. She can push her little IV pole down the hallway and the nurses and staff are smiling. We are enveloped with love here.”

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