Courage: Facing the Fears of a Childhood Cancer Diagnosis

Merriam-Webster defines ‘courage’ as mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty. It can also be defined by the childhood cancer journey of Four Diamonds child Keaghan and her family who have endured significant challenges and side effects during her battle. They continue to demonstrate that courage is when we face our fears.

Everybody in Keaghan’s hometown knows her, not because of her battle with childhood cancer, but because of her outgoing and bubbly personality and her desire to know others. Even though her treatments have been difficult on her at times, Keaghan can still be found around the hospital with a smile on her face.

Keaghan’s cancer journey began in November 2022 when she was six years old after dealing with a dry cough. When school rolled around that week, Keaghan had stopped in at the nurse’s office, indicating she was feeling tired, but she didn’t want to come home and wanted to stay at school. Keaghan loves school, and it would take a lot for her to willingly go home sick or not go in. On December 5, Keaghan’s parents took her to urgent care. That morning, she felt so tired she couldn’t even make it down the stairs and said that she couldn’t go to school. Urgent Care did an x-ray of Keaghan’s chest and the doctor returned to the room indicating they needed to get to their local hospital immediately as it looked like she had pneumonia in the lungs. When Keaghan’s blood work came back, the doctors asked to speak to her parents right away, where they would hear those words that no parent should ever have to hear, “your child has cancer.” The medical team also indicated that Keaghan’s lungs may have collapsed, and she needed to Penn State Health Children’s Hospital immediately to meet with a pediatric oncologist.

Finding Courage During Cancer Treatment

Keaghan’s doctor immediately got to work on additional tests to determine the type of leukemia that they were dealing with, and to treat the issues with her lungs. While her family waited for new testing to come back, Keaghan had a chest tube placed and her care team worked on draining the fluid from her lungs. Doctors removed a significant amount of fluid, including nearly a liter and half in the first ten seconds, and what eventually totaled three and half liters. After a while, Keaghan stabilized and now faced a diagnosis of T-cell leukemia and a fungal infection.

Since early December 2022, Keaghan has endured a variety of treatments, including chemotherapy, lumbar punctures and IV anti-fungal medications to name a few. Keaghan has been on more medications than most kids fighting leukemia, including precautionary medications, medications for intestinal issues caused by the chemotherapy and multiple bouts of C-DIFF, which causes intestinal issues and inflammation. 

This past June, the masses in Keaghan’s lungs were addressed. Scans were showing three masses, including one very large one at the bottom of her lungs. The surgeons at the Children’s Hospital felt confident that they could remove at least part of the largest mass. Thankfully, Keaghan’s surgery was extremely successful, and her largest mass was completely removed. Keaghan bounced back from the surgery quickly and her most recent scans showed that a second mass has completely disappeared. Fortunately, her third mass has shrunk by 50 percent.

Leaning on the Courage of Others

“Before our doctor told us about Four Diamonds, he warned us that this part of the conversations with families gets him emotional,” said Four Diamonds dad Bryan. “He talked about Four Diamonds and Penn State THON and how we won’t see a bill for Keaghan’s care.” Bryan also mentioned how thankful he was for Four Diamonds assistance program for vehicle wear and tear, and for all the events that are available for Keaghan to participate in. “We have gained a whole new family that we weren’t expecting,” said Four Diamonds mom Kaitland. “Our dedicated social worker put us in touch with another Four Diamonds family that lives down the road from us, and this showed us that with Four Diamonds you are never alone.”

Keaghan is thankful for the time she has spent with Four Diamonds art therapist Alexis and music therapist Korrin from our psychosocial team. Art is Keaghan's way of keeping herself grounded. Art gives her a way to talk about her self-care and her treatment, and make things that help her feel connected to people in her life. It also allows her to escape and let her imagination go wild so she is not stuck in the world of having cancer. Kaitland described the relationship between Keaghan and Alexis as “besties.” Throughout Keaghan’s cancer journey, Korrin has been a steady to support for her. She is able to calm Keaghan through difficult tests and procedures and has even taught her how to play the ukulele.

Currently, Keaghan is in remission from her cancer. However, T-cell leukemia is aggressive and can come back. She’s receiving an aggressive chemotherapy to find any cancer cells hiding in her body, including her bone marrow. This phase keeps her in remission and will hopefully cure her. Her risk of fungal infection may be lifelong, but that’s the next obstacle, and there is a good plan in place. However, you can still find her smiling in her room at the hospital, 3D printing lizards and other fun things for staff, patients and visitors, and ordering pancakes with french fries.

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