Krista and Norm thought their 21-month-old daughter had a bowel blockage when they took her to see a doctor on Jan. 15.
But after an X-ray ruled out a blockage, they were sent to BC Children’s Hospital immediately where they learned their daughter, Savanna Gervais, had a tumour – most likely neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer that starts in immature nerve cells in the sympathetic nervous system, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Two days earlier Norm had noticed his daughter’s belly slightly distended to the left, but she was otherwise happy and acting normal, said her mother Krista MacDonald.
It was only the next day she started showing signs of discomfort.
Once they got to BC Children’s, said MacDonald, everything happened quickly.
The next day she had another X-ray, more blood work, and a CT scan before doctors determined that it was definitely a tumour.
From there, Savanna underwent a surgical biopsy, bone marrow extraction, and more blood work on Jan. 21.
On Jan. 22 she had a full MIBG scan, a nuclear scan test that uses injected radioactive material called radioisotope and special scanner, that confirmed the cancer was, in fact, neuroblastoma.
And on Jan. 23 they learned that it was stage 4.
Then, MacDonald said, they had the “dreaded” meeting with a team of doctors to determine the next steps for Savanna: chemotherapy.
“Once we signed the papers, they had the medication on hand and started within 30 minutes,” said MacDonald.
Neuroblastoma, most often, starts in the abdomen, according to the Canadian Cancer Society’s website, in the adrenal gland that lies just above the kidney. But, it can also start near the spinal cord in the neck, chest, or pelvis.
Sometimes the cells, called neuroblasts, change and can no longer behave normally, which can lead to benign tumours, but in other cases it leads to neuroblastoma.
In a lengthy Jan. 18 online post Krista described what it is like for her and her family in dealing with Savanna’s struggle.
“We drink coffee daily, mom is struggling to eat meals so smaller snacks, dad brought some boost to help us supplement our diets , it’s hard to maintain our health when our stomachs are in knots with worry and fear and pure emotion,” read the post.
“Savanna felt OK [enough] today to go for a walk, but she hadn’t been the previous two days. She is confined to this unit so leaving here for more than a short period is just so hard,” Mom wrote. She also talked about how difficult it is to sleep.
“My sleep is broken, sometimes because of my own worries, sometimes because we need vitals done through the night… so far during the day I’ve reached points of exhaustion, but have yet to be able to actually drift to sleep,” she said.
So far, Savanna has completed her first cycle of chemo medication and is in “recovery mode.” said Krista.
“She has a rash on her torso and head and has had daily fevers, but otherwise is responding well from the sounds of it,” continued her mother, adding that she is weak and does not love to attempt walking.
On Thursday a feeding tube was inserted through her nose.
Mom is hopeful that in another two weeks her second cycle of chemo will begin.
????The family has been told that, for the time being, Savanna will be treated as an in-patient in the hospital for the next three to five weeks and during chemo treatments for each cycle.
Doctors are planning on doing six cycles of chemotherapy, at this point, Mom conveyed. Surgery will “hopefully” be done between cycles five and six of chemo, followed by radiation at some point in the future.
When they do get to go home they will have to go back and forth to BC Children’s Hospital for blood work and outpatient care.
Savanna is also taking medication for a blood clot, she has had three blood transfusions, she is on her third round of antibiotics and she has pneumonia.
A GoFundMe page has been set up under #supportingsavanna2020 to help the family with the cost of medications, parking, gas, food, their mortgage payments, electricity bills, “just to name a few of the many, many expenses that don’t go away when you have a sick child who needs all of your time and attention,” wrote Tammy Ross, one of the fundraiser’s organizers.
She along with 13 other friends of the MacDonald family are hoping to raise $20,000. So far $6,143 has been raised.
On Sunday at the Haney Public House, at 22222 Lougheed Hwy., there will be a 50/50 taking place all day.
Another pub night fundraiser has already sold out.
An account has also been set up with Return-It Depots across the province. Anyone wishing to donate recyclables simply has to put them in a clear bag, bring it to a depot, and print and attach a label at the kiosk with the phone number 778-241-4360.
MacDonald said that her family has been struggling emotionally, including Savanna’s three siblings, Emma-Lee, 22, Brendon, 21 and Riley, 16.
“But the village of people surrounding us with love has been amazing.” Mom said.