WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
for a woman whose heroic spirit was tested and
shown as a model to all in Shelby County and beyond:
This girl likes her nails painted pretty and pink and wears her hats to match.
She’s a 9 year old fashionista and a gourmet cook who, thanks to Make-A-Wish Foundation, has traveled to Paris to work on her pastries!
Yet since age 7, Caroline Turns has been surviving a childhood cancer so rare that the doctors at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital had only seen it once in the hospital’s 46-year history. That cancer is pancretoblastom. It appears in children age 9 and younger and is believed to be caused by left-over fetal cells.
From the time of her diagnosis, through difficult treatments and today, Caroline remains positive and upbeat. She has shared her story with others locally and throughout the nation through newspaper articles in Memphis and Dallas and through widely-read blogs and Internet sites.
In late spring 2007, Caroline developed a stomach ache that just wouldn’t go away. At first her parents and pediatrician thought she just had some kind of stomach virus. When the discomfort and nausea persisted, she was put on antacids. By late July, she was in excruciating pain and was admitted to LeBonheur Children’s Medical Center. On July 27, a CT scan showed a tumor. Time to move on to St. Jude for further testing.
At the meeting in which her parents received the cancer diagnosis, Dr. Stephen Skapek told them “We think your daughter is curable.” No percentages, but that word alone was reason for hope.
While her doctors discussed treatment plans, her parents discussed how to best help her through this enormous challenge. Her mother Marcjana immediately decided on a “no tears in front of Caroline” rule. Her father Patrick left his job and became Caroline’s full-time caregiver.
Her doctors came up with chemotherapy and surgery.
First, Caroline underwent nine rounds of chemotherapy at St. Jude. Side effects were excruciating but she persevered.
Removing the tumor, which was the size of a baked potato, was considered essential to her cure. Due to the shape of the tumor, Caroline’s doctor felt that the best way to successfully remove it would be with a multi-organ, single donor transplant.
Doctors at St. Jude searched for a hospital willing and able to perform such a complex procedure and found the Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Miami Transplant Institute.
The dangers of the surgery and problems following such a surgery are huge, but after much research, soul-searching and a trip to Miami to meet the doctors, Patrick and Marcjana agreed.
Caroline and Patrick moved to an apartment in Miami to await a donor. In June, 2008, one was found. Marcjana rushed to Miami to be there for the surgery. After an operation that lasted almost ten hours, Caroline came out with a new stomach, liver, pancreas, small and large intestine.
Three months later she was back home in Memphis and able to visit her third grade class at Dogwood Elementary!
But Caroline still has a long road ahead. She has returned to the hospital several times to fight off infections that are so very dangerous to a transplant survivor the first year following surgery. And in October two glitter-sized spots of cancer were found on her lungs. This resulted in more surgery, several more rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
Despite all, she forges ahead.
Her mother’s no crying rule and her father’s daily presence have provided a good base for Caroline and fit well with her sunny disposition and natural optimism. She continues her fight against this powerful disease, maintaining friendships with staff at both St. Jude’s and Holz Children’s when she’s in the hospital.
When she’s home – life is not about her health. It’s about normal kid stuff and family stuff — baking cookies, attending parties, checking in with school friends and just enjoying family time.
When asked how she’s able to do all this, our heroic nine year old says, “I just know it’s going to turn out right.”
Her heroic spirit is a model for us all.
Caroline Turns passed away on June 22, 2009.