Addie Napierski felt a little foggy as she looked up at the hospital lights. “Oh yeah,” she thought, abruptly aware of where she was. Her mom, April, sat nearby, looking anxious and waiting for Addie to wake up enough to hear the news. But she already knew what is was before her mom whispered in her ear “Adds, it’s cancer.”
"The first 72 hours is critical if you have a muscle tear" - Dr. Blackham
She thought she was prepared for the news. Her parents had prepared her, and she knew going in that she might come out and hear those words. But it still made her stomach drop. She closed her eyes, breathed in for a few moments, and searched for the courage and optimism she would need to face the world with cancer. When she opened her eyes, she was ready for the fight.
Addie was 13, living with her family in Singapore, when the stomach pains first began. They were severe – cramping, twisting, sharp shooting pain. They would come in waves, a few minutes long, with just a few minutes in between to catch her breath. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea often followed. The first time it happened, her mom wrote it off as a flu bug. Then, in August 2014, a particularly rough episode sent them to the ER.
Medications, blood work, x-rays and a referral to a GI doctor, then an endoscopy and colonoscopy found nothing. April noticed that Addie was looking pale, and slowly losing weight. They were told that it might be a food allergy, but eliminating wheat and dairy did nothing to stop the episodes of pain, which began coming at least once a week.
Addie, continuing to get thinner and paler, began developing random fevers by September. Her doctor ordered an MRI of the small bowel, which neither the endoscopy nor colonoscopy had explored. On September 27, they got the results: Addie had a 10-centimeter mass in her small intestine, and her surrounding lymph nodes were swollen. The following Monday, an exploratory surgery and biopsy revealed the diagnosis no parent or child wanted to hear: Cancer.
The next day they found it was Stage 2 Burkitt’s Lymphoma, a form of cancer that, while aggressive, responds well to treatment. With an 85% cure rate, and with the cancer present only in the mass and the surrounding lymph nodes, the Napierski’s packed their bags and three days later were on a plane to Utah, where Addie would undergo five rounds of chemotherapy at Primary Children’s Hospital.
It wasn’t easy. All of Addie’s rounds of chemotherapy required intensive supportive care, including blood transfusions, IV fluids, and tube feedings. After a few rounds, she began having episodes of pain again. Just before Thanksgiving, she was admitted to the hospital, where they found that scar tissue around the shrinking tumor was nearly blocking her intestine. The Primary Children’s team removed a part of Addie’s intestine, and closely monitored her precarious recovery as her body simultaneously healed from surgery and fought off cancer. Addie stayed in the hospital until December 20.
“Those were the toughest days of my life,” she said. “I would not have wanted to be anywhere else. The care I received at Primary’s was outstanding. I was able to create lifelong friendships and bonds that will stay with me forever. These nurses, doctors, and child life specialists were able to save my life, and be my friends during times when I couldn’t have friends visit me. Primary Children’s truly did feel like a second home. I knew my time in the hospital would have its ups and downs, but I knew I could always count on Primary’s staff to keep me smiling.”
Now, Addie is back in Singapore with her family attending the 10th grade. She continues to have oncology checkups every six months. Now cancer free and healthy, she in involved in student leadership, enjoys dance and playing soccer.