Zéa Lane was three months old when cancer interrupted her life. The extensive treatment paralyzed her from the chest down. And doctors said that she would never walk. But against all odds, she made it through all the obstacles and now she learns to walk.
It all began with a fever. When she was staying in Miami, she started running a high fever with 106 degrees. There was no other sign of illness. The hospital did an MRI, which revealed the hard truth of cancer.
She was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, rare cancer that largely affects very young children. It is a type of cancer that starts in certain very early forms of nerve cells found in an embryo or fetus. It occurs most often in infants and young children. According to the American Cancer Society, there are about 700 cases in the United States.
Recalling those days her mother Heather Lane told CNN, “She was covered with cancer. She had a primary area on her spine, and from there, she had disease that had spread to her liver, lungs, kidneys, bone marrow, even in her skull. We nearly lost her at that point.”
The doctors asked the parents to decide on the treatment. They could either go for a surgery to remove the tumor or begin chemotherapy. And they decided to go for the surgery.
Unfortunately, after the surgery, Zea became paralyzed from the chest down.
She had to go ahead with chemotherapy to fight other tumors. She had to undergo eight cycles of chemotherapy. Sometimes, the intense chemo drugs hampered her immune system to an extent that she needed blood transfusions.
Lane remembers, “Every time she would get another dose of chemo, I literally watched the life slip away and return. She turned gray. And then when she would have a blood transfusion to bring her counts back up, then the life would literally come back. It was incredible.”
Even after eight cycles, a tiny fraction of a tumor remains between her lungs and her spine. Instead of continuing her chemotherapy, her parents took her to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. And oncologist at Sloan Kettering, Dr. Shakeel Modak stopped all the treatment and adopted a “watch and wait” protocol.
Because it is seen that when neuroblastoma occurs in very young children, the tumors can resolve on their own and shrink. Zéa’s tumor shrank after her chemotherapy. Even though she is now considered normal, doctors monitor her closely. But, she had to live with the damage happened to her spine.
Ray Of Hope
When her parents saw Zea wiggling her toes, they were hopeful. They realized that it is not an irreversible damage. Thus, they decided to take the next step.
They took Zea to the pediatric International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. The hope was that since Zea was still a developing child, therapy and rehab will help her get back on her feet.
Paige Bourne as her physical therapist, and Rachel Mertins as her aquatic therapist, Zea started working hard to learn to walk. For Zea, they had to keep the therapy fun and interesting. And she showed tremendous improvement within months.
After months of hard work, she walked on the aquatic treadmill without support for her arms. And she even walked for longer distances using the assistance of a walker on land.
The therapist asked Zea to continue with a customized home program, which she can work with her local physical therapist. Zea’s parents also help her practice at home. Moreover, hippotherapy once a week at Bit-By-Bit, a local nonprofit therapeutic horseback riding center also helped her.
Now, she has made impressive progress. As her therapist told CNN, “She is walking more independently and further every session. As she’s growing up, she’s more engaged in physical therapy and is motivated to work hard to reach her goals.”
Her doctors and therapists are confident that her fighting spirit will help her walk independently and lead a normal life like any other toddler. They even expect her to swim on her own without assisted devices. Best wishes, Zea!