Standing Tall: Toddler Takes First Steps While Fighting Cancer

Jonathan was holding his smiling and joyful 10-month-old daughter, Freya, in his arms when he noticed something unusual, and his wife became concerned.

“As Jonathan was holding her, we noticed that her stomach was a little wider, a little bigger than normal,” Freya’s mom, Ashley, explained. “Jonathan’s father is a physician, so we called him for advice. When he examined her, he immediately told us, ‘That mass shouldn’t be there.’”

Freya’s grandfather and her hometown pediatrician both told Jonathan and Ashley that there was only one place they should go to have Freya evaluated: Texas Children’s Hospital.

“Jonathan’s dad and Freya’s pediatrician worked together to schedule an appointment with Dr. Jed Nuchtern, a pediatric surgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital,” Ashley said. “The appointment was on a Monday. On our three-hour drive back home to Fairfield, Texas, the hospital called and said Freya’s scans indicated she had a mass — most likely a Wilms tumor, specifically,” Ashley explained. “Freya was scheduled for surgery that Friday, four days later. It all happened very quickly.”

Wilms tumor is a disease in which cancer cells are found in the kidney. It occurs most commonly in children under the age of five.

The surgery to remove Freya’s tumor, which weighed one pound, was successful. But the family’s journey at Texas Children’s wasn’t over.

“When they did follow-up scans after the surgery, they noticed the cancer had spread to her lungs,” Ashley explained. “So, we started spending four days out of the week coming to Houston for Freya to receive chemotherapy and radiation.”

It’s been seven months since Freya, who is now 17 months old, began receiving treatment. Her parents are overjoyed to share that she only has two treatments left and that the nodules on her chest are either getting smaller or disappearing altogether.

“In the beginning, the first scan showed countless nodules,” Ashley said. “Initially, she was only getting a certain type of chemo, and the second scan revealed she had even more nodules and the ones that were already there were bigger. Then they told us, ‘Let’s go ahead and do radiation on the abdomen and the chest.’ And the radiation really knocked the tumors out. Just two scans later, it looked like there was nothing there — only a few little ones. Those are the nodules her care team is tracking now and they’re responding to the chemotherapy. We should be done in October, God willing, if everything keeps going well. Then it’ll just be maintenance therapy.”

Freya’s parents are so grateful for the all-around care they’ve received over the last seven months at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center, including the exceptional care from their primary oncologist, Dr. Murali M. Chintagumpala.

“Even before all of this began, we always used to say Freya was our ‘therapy baby,’” Freya’s mom said. “She remains such a happy little girl and has really bonded with everyone, and the staff have gone above and beyond. Sometimes she fusses when we leave home because of the long car ride, but when we’re here and in the infusion room, she’ll cry when we’re trying to leave because there are lots of other kids and the staff knows her really well. For instance, Freya will just run up to them and they’ll pick her up and hold her.”

“This has been the best hospital experience we’ve ever had, which includes us and our extended family,” Jonathan chimed in. “It’s really unmatched at Texas Children’s, it’s one-of-a-kind. It really feels like we’ve run a marathon together.”

Freya and her family even got to celebrate a major milestone during their stay at Texas Children’s — Freya’s first steps.

“Her first steps in the hospital and one of her very first walking sessions were in the infusion room,” her parents said. “We signaled to one of the nurses that Freya was starting to walk on her own, and the nurse encouraged her to come to her, and she did!”

Ashley and Jonathan reflected on Freya’s cancer journey: “What we’d tell other families going through something similar is to try to stay positive, though we understand every family is going to have a different journey. At first, we were in shock, as if we had won some horrible lottery. And then you go through the motions, and you realize ‘this is life now.’ You deal with it because you have to. If you’re religious, pray. Try to stay in the present moment, make the best of it and enjoy those moments you have.”

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