Stephanie has always known Aria is one in a million. But she never expected her little girl, at only 14 months old, would be diagnosed with a rare liver cancer affecting only one in a million children. When Aria was around six months old, Aria never seemed interested in eating solid foods. When she stopped gaining weight at nine months old, Steph became worried and consulted different doctors until one finally referred her to GI specialist Dr. Martin at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. When Dr. Martin felt her tummy, he could feel something, but sent her for bloodwork and an ultrasound to be sure. The next day, while she was driving to work, Steph received a call from Dr. Martin, and after he instructed her to pull over, he delivered the shocking news: “Aria has cancer.”
He told her to go home and pack a bag for the hospital. A CT scan the next morning revealed a tumour on her liver measuring 10 cm by 8 cm by 9 cm – about the size an adult fist. Aria, only weighed 18 lbs. The tumour took up the whole right side of her liver and was displacing her right kidney, compressing her stomach, and pushing against her heart. It could have caused a heart attack at any moment. She was given a steroid to protect her heart but was stable enough to go home. A biopsy later confirmed the tumour was hepatoblastoma, one of two kinds of liver cancers. Because the tumour was inoperable at that size, Oncologist Dr. Strother started her on four different types of chemotherapy to shrink it. Steph told Aria, “There is something in your tummy and these doctors are going to help you.”
Aria went through four rounds of chemotherapy from November 2016 to February 2017, one day a week of which was received at home through the donor-funded Hospital at Home program. When she still wasn’t gaining weight, she was given an NG tube for feeding. Thankfully, the chemo helped shrink the tumour enough for surgery, but it wiped out her immune system making her sick and caused some hearing loss. In an eight-hour operation, Dr. Eccles surgically removed the tumour along with 70% of Aria’s liver, her gallbladder and lymph nodes. She recovered in Unit 1 for 12 days and went home and took her first steps! After two rounds of “clean up” chemo, she was declared in remission two months later!
Then, last March, Aria, then 4, started turning yellow and again, stopped eating. Her team discovered through ultrasound and MRI that her common bile duct in her liver had completely obstructed, resulting in Aria going into emergency surgery two hours later. Over the next six months, she had nine surgeries to help her liver function properly again, including creating a new bile duct for her. In total, Aria has had 14 surgeries and spent over 90 days in patient at the hospital. Through it all, she never stopped smiling. Her Beads of Courage she has collected throughout her journey now measures 31 feet long!
To her mom, Aria is a fighter and the definition of hope and resilience. And now, she’s in Kindergarten! Stephanie is so grateful to her life-saving team at the hospital.
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