September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

Kaylee's story

A Family Faces a Rare Case of Pediatric Ovarian Cancer

Five years ago, when she was in 3rd grade, Kaylee Tolleson started complaining of stomach pain. Thirty minutes later, the pain went away, and she happily returned to her favorite activity, ice-skating.

During the next few months, Kaylee’s parents, Kelly and John Tolleson, noticed that she complained of stomach pain with increasing frequency. It was concerning enough that Kelly scheduled an appointment with Kaylee’s pediatrician, who diagnosed her with constipation. Unfortunately, the treatment didn’t help. When Kaylee’s pain worsened, her mother brought her to an urgent care clinic.

“She came downstairs, and she was hollering that it hurt ‘really bad’. I took her to urgent care, but when arrived she was fine. In fact, she was dancing around the parking lot,” said Kelly.

Finding the diagnosis

A few months later, Kaylee’s pain returned. This time she also had a fever and her stomach pain didn’t go away. Her parents brought her to the emergency department for evaluation.

“We came to Texas Children’s ER. They did an ultrasound, but then it started to worry us when they kept coming for more pictures and images and blood work, and an IV was placed,” said Kelly. “Eventually, they told us she had a softball sized mass in her abdomen, and the diagnosis was leaning toward cancer.”

The team of experts at Texas Children’s moved quickly. Kaylee was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a very rare condition in children. An oncologist immediately met with the family in the ER and started discussions about surgery to remove the tumor.

“It’s tough, going from having a healthy child with some constipation to a diagnosis of cancer,” said Kelly.

A rapid treatment response

The tumor was successfully removed, and Kaylee was soon able to be discharged home to recover. Then, they were once again caught off guard. Two weeks later, as Kaylee’s family was making plans for her to return to school and her ice-skating team, they received the news that her cancer had spread.

The medical team at Texas Children’s recommended treatment with chemotherapy. For the next few months, the family’s life revolved around Kaylee’s treatment schedule: a week-long stay in the hospital, followed by 2 weeks at home, and then the cycle repeated with another week in the hospital. She received a total of four rounds of chemotherapy.

“In March, she went up to the school and said goodbye to all her friends, and that was it for 3rd grade,” said Kelly.

By July of 2019, Kaylee had completed her chemotherapy treatment course. Her cancer responded well to the treatment and her doctors could find no further evidence of disease. She was in remission!

Finding support on the long road of recovery

For seven months, the sole focus of the Tolleson family’s energy was on treating Kaylee’s cancer. As hard as it was to rely on the support of their family, friends and health care team, they were prepared for their next challenge. Once the dust settled and they thought they were going back to their “pre-cancer” routine, they faced a new and more difficult challenge.

“Afterward was the worst part for us because Kaylee wasn’t Kaylee anymore, mentally,” said Kelly.

Kaylee, who had once been surrounded by friends and involved in activities, became fearful and withdrawn. The months of concern for their daughter, with late nights at the hospital and watching her struggle with losing her hair and feeling ill from the chemotherapy, also took an emotional toll on her parents.

The Tolleson family put the same effort into a mental health recovery as they had put into Kaylee’s cancer treatment. They set time aside to heal their emotional wounds. With time and the help of mental health professionals, the Tolleson family got their feet back underneath them. They once again had hope for their future.

“One day it was like a cloud lifted, and we started to see Kaylee’s personality come out again,” said Kelly. For Kelly and John, this marks the day of Kaylee’s “complete” cancer recovery.

Today, Kaylee is in 8th grade. She’s returned to both team and solo ice-skating competitions and has a supportive group of family and friends surrounding her. The Tollesons share their story of physical and emotional cancer recovery to help others through this difficult journey and to provide them with hope for the future of their child and their family.

“Kaylee still has no evidence of disease. They don’t like to say, “cancer free,” but still, it’s a good place to be. She’s healthy and happy,” said Kelly.

Learn more about the Cancer Survivor Program at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center.

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