Sydney’s Heroic Journey Overcoming Cancer
Ask a child what he or she would like to be famous for and you’re likely to hear entertainer, athlete or astronaut. Cancer survivor isn’t typically on the list, but Sydney Waldrop of Long Beach is far from typical.
A third-grade tomboy who loves to giggle and swim, Sydney was diagnosed a little over a year ago with Langerhans Cell Sarcoma. Less than 50 cases worldwide have ever been reported.
“Most people have never heard of this rare, fast-growing cancer. Only a small amount of medical literature even exists – and most of it focuses on adults,” says Theodore Zwerdling, MD, pediatric oncologist, Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center (JJCCC), Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach. “From the moment we confirmed Sydney’s diagnosis, it’s been a history-making journey.”
Fearful of the Worst
By the time Sydney arrived at JJCCC, she couldn’t walk. X-rays were not producing any answers. What started as chest pains had evolved into something far more debilitating – and confounding.
An MRI at Miller Children’s revealed a tumor the size of a golf ball near her spinal cord. Fearful of the pressure being placed on Sydney’s spine, her neurosurgeon knew they had to move quickly.
Within 24 hours of the diagnosis, pediatric surgical specialists removed part of the cancerous mass. However, they discovered more bad news in the process: the tumor had wrapped itself around the spinal cord and eaten through the vertebrae. Tissue samples confirmed a rare and malignant form of cancer.
“We had to act fast. If we didn’t, Sydney may have never walked again. Her second procedure lasted 15 hours. We successfully removed the remainder of the mass and reconstructed damaged vertebrae through grafts from one of Sydney’s ribs,” says Ramin Javahery, MD, medical director, pediatric neurosurgery, Miller Children’s.
Sydney is one of more than 800 children treated each year at the JJCCC for a complete range of childhood cancers and serious blood disorders. A strong clinical research program provides access to the latest therapies and technologies, advancing care for today and tomorrow’s children. Board-certified pediatric hematologists and oncologists are available around the clock. The JJCCC has a Three-Year Accreditation with Commendation by the Commission on Cancer (CoC) of the American College of Surgeons (ACoS). Accreditation by the CoC is given only to those facilities that have voluntarily committed to providing the highest level of quality cancer care and that undergo a rigorous evaluation process and review of their performance.
“There was no established treatment protocol in place for Sydney’s condition. We had to develop one. She thrives today because our multi-disciplinary team of experts – oncologists/hematologists, neurosurgeons, pathologists – are all here on site, under one roof. We came together to find this little girl a solution,” says Dr. Zwerdling.
Expertise at Miller Children’s extends to acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), brain tumors, hard tissue, soft tissue, neuroblastoma and Wilms’ tumor. JJCCC at Miller Children’s is also a regional leader in treating serious blood disorders, such as aplastic anemia, sickle cell anemia and hemophilia.
Class of its Own
Miller Children’s is the only hospital in the area that offers such an expansive psychosocial program both in the inpatient and outpatient setting. Working exclusively with kids who have cancer and blood disorders, JJCCC’s child life specialists, psychologists and social workers offer age-appropriate coping skills. The team of physical therapists, dietitians and pediatric dentists support patients from admission through follow-up care.
For Sydney, this meant working with art and music therapists to express her emotions in a way that helped relieve her anxiety. She even developed her own language, calling her condition the “cancer bully.”
“I think my daughter is the one bullying cancer thanks to everyone at Miller Children’s,” says Jennifer Waldrop, Sydney’s mother. “She is alive today, cancer-free and walking. I can’t ask for anything more. I am eternally grateful.”