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Born With Cancer

January 14, 2011, 10:01 PM by Kelli Grant

Born With Cancer
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Hearing the words "you have cancer" can be devastating at any age. Most of us hope we'll live a long and healthy life without ever hearing those words.

But that's exactly what doctors recently told a KELOLAND mother, that her baby was born with cancer. It's news that's as hard to understand as it is to accept.

Eight-week-old Sophia Marie was born November 3rd. Everything seemed fine with her birth, until nurses noticed something wasn't quite right.

“They noticed when they stretched her left leg she screamed really loud,” Sophia's mother Samantha said.

“Why does she look like she's bruised? It looked like a big bruise,” Sophia's grandma Emilia Piche said.

An X-ray, then an MRI and a biopsy told a very different story. It wasn't just a bruise. It was cancer.

“It's not very common for a child to be born with cancer. There are certain types that are more common in infancy, but it's not common in general to have cancer as an infant," Sanford Pediatric Oncologist Dr. Kaye Wagner said.

The most common type of cancer in infants is called Neuroblastoma, a cancer that forms in the nerve tissues and, in babies, often disappears without treatment.

But more tests revealed Sophia had a different kind of cancer and her road wouldn't be easy.

“It's a type of cancer that's developed in the soft tissues, in a muscle in her leg and that unfortunately does not go away on its own,” Wagner said.

So at just three weeks, this tiny baby began chemotherapy at Sanford Children's.

“She's getting a medicine called Vincristine. A common dose would be to give a milligram. She was getting .08 milligrams. So significantly smaller,” Wagner said.

Sophia's children's cancer specialist, Dr. Kaye Wagner, knew it would be best to try and shrink the tumor, with surgery to follow.

“There will be a combination of surgery and chemotherapy and potentially radiation to treat this,” Wagner said.

“I was numb for a while. I was like OK she's gonna have chemo and they're talking about radiation, on a newborn,” Piche said.

It's hard to imagine a baby with cancer. It's even harder to understand how that cancer formed while inside her mother's womb. It's a question doctors just can't answer.

“Of course lots of mom's say 'What happened? And what did we do? Did I do something wrong?' And it's never that situation," Wagner said.

Wagner says in some cases genetics play a role.

“There are some types of familial syndromes that this cancer can be associated with. But nothing that is a direct cause and effect relationship,” Wagner said.

What is known is that Sophia can beat this cancer.

“The thing in her favor is that it didn't spread anywhere else in her body,” Wagner said.

Yet for Sophia the treatment means she needs to have part of her left leg amputated.

“Why can't they just take the tumor and leave the leg? They say that the tumor pretty much destroyed that leg,” Piche said.

The morning of surgery comes way too soon.

Sophia's leg is removed at the knee. And while this is a day her family will never forget, there is some peace in knowing it's also one Sophia will never remember.

“The only blessing through all of it is that she'll have no memory,” Piche said.

“She's not gonna know her surgery and everything else and her chemo she's been through. She's not gonna remember any of that at all,” Riis Christensen said.

It's a comfort, not only to this family, but also to the medical team helping her beat the disease.

“That's one of the great things about taking care of kids. It won't slow her down at all I bet. You know she'll do everything she wants to do because she'll learn to walk and do everything with the prosthesis and it won't be change for her at all,” Wagner said.

Once Sophia recovers from this week's surgery, she'll continue with chemotherapy. Her doctors don't know yet whether she'll also need radiation treatments. There is one interesting twist to this story: After raising funds to help the Children's Miracle Network as an employee at WalMart, Sophia's grandmother is now seeing first-hand what a difference those funds can make.

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