By Julie Calohan, Madigan Healthcare System Strategic Communication OfficeApril 13, 2010
MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Wash. (April 13, 2010) -- There was pizza. There were soft drinks and balloons. There was a sheet cake bearing a trio of colorful princesses... and there was a 4-year-old girl named Abigail Barrett who had something to celebrate.
It wasn't her birthday, however. It was a party to honor Abigail's fight for her life. After almost a year of treatments at Madigan Army Medical Center for rhabdomyosarcoma, a muscle cancer, Abigail has ended chemotherapy and is now in remission.
"I don't throw up anymore," she said.
Her mother, Danielle, and her father, Spc. Thomas Barrett, a member of the 864th Engineer Battalion at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, watched Abigail play and talk with other kids during the party, including her 2-year-old brother, Jeremiah. They remembered the day they were told their daughter might have cancer. It was April 6, 2009.
"I thought, 'No, that can't be right. Kids don't get cancer.' It was more shock than anything," Danielle said.
She said she began to notice when Abigail would shift her eyes to look at something, her right eye wouldn't turn with her left. Danielle had a friend whose daughter had just had surgery at Madigan for a lazy eye, and she thought Abigail was developing one too.
"When I brought her in, the doctor noticed her eye was kind of bulging, and he could tell she was having trouble seeing out of that eye as well, which is a cause for concern. So they did an emergency CAT scan," Danielle said.
It was then that a large tumor was discovered behind Abigail's right eye, and a biopsy confirmed it was cancer. A week later, Abigail started chemotherapy. Every six weeks for two days, Abigail was an inpatient at Madigan for chemotherapy treatments. Additionally, her family traveled to Boston so that she could undergo proton therapy, a form of radiation therapy with little to no side effects. Danielle said the Army paid for the Family's housing while they were there, so it wasn't a financial hardship.
"It was just hard emotionally," she said.
The Pediatric Oncology Clinic at Madigan is small, with only the chief of the clinic, Maj. (Dr.) Melissa Forouhar, and Dr. Kelly Faucette, both pediatric hematologists and oncologists, serving as providers for about 40 patients. However, they believe that's what gives the clinic an advantage.
"We share patients, so all the patients know us, and we know all the patients. They have access to one of us 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Faucette said. "Because we're smaller, our patients get more personalized attention. We really get to know our Families here."
A job some people might find difficult is just the opposite for Forouhar. "Everybody says that this has to be a really tough job. But in our specialty, you take kids who would die without treatment, and you save them," she said.
According to Faucette, the cure rate for children's cancer is approaching 70 percent, and that means getting a college degree and having a family for most of the children they see. They believe Abigail's prognosis is very good.
"She has made it through treatment without a relapse," Faucette said. "The prognosis is better if the cancer doesn't come back during treatment. Her family has every right to be optimistic."
Abigail's mom, Danielle, agreed. There were tears, she said, but there was also a lot of faith. She's confident her daughter's cancer won't return.
"It's not going to come back," she said.
As Abigail was about to ring the "off-chemo bell," a large brass bell all pediatric oncology patients ring when their chemotherapy treatments end, her mom gave her some encouraging words. "Go ahead, baby. Make lots of noise," Danielle said.
The bell clanged loudly, and a raucous round of applause echoed through the small room, as a wide grin appeared on Abigail's face. Then she asked her mom a question about what was really on her mind. "Now can I have some candy'"