Understanding Childhood Cancer
- Aubrey English was just 2 years old when she was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma. Then, in 2018 when she was just 3, a video of Aubrey dancing to Ciara’s song Level Up from her hospital room went viral.
- Now, at 6 years old, Aubrey her cancer is 3 years in remission. Aubrey was surprised with a trip to Disney and a virtual visit from Ciara recently on Good Morning America.
- Liver cancer in children is extremely rare, but the most common type of pediatric liver cancer is hepatoblastoma.
Aubrey, the now 6-year-old cancer survivor, was just 3 years old when the video of her movin’ and groovin’ to Level Up during treatment went viral. Her mother shared the video along with a touching message on behalf of her sweet little girl.Read More
“Dear CHILDHOOD CANCER, Just so you know, I won’t give up. I won’t give in. You won’t take my spirit. You won’t take my spunk. I have endless faith. Endless hope. And even more fierceness. You may be in my life. But you don’t have my life. LEVEL UP!! @ciara,” her mother wrote on Facebook.
Fast forward to today, and Aubrey’s rare cancer is three years in remission. Her family is celebrating the critical milestone, but the Good Morning America team and Ciara herself wanted to make the moment even more special.
“Oh my goodness I am in tears right now,” Ciara said during a virtual visit with Aubrey and her family. “Aubrey I just wanna say that you are a superhero… I am so impressed by your strength and how you never gave up in your battle against cancer. You inspire me and so many people and so many others.”
But the visit from her dancing muse wasn’t the sole surprise for Aubrey that day. Her family was also treated with a trip to Disney for them to enjoy together. When she’s at the park, Aubrey will even get to meet Princess Tiana along with some of her other favorite Disney characters.
Aubrey’s Cancer Journey
Aubrey’s health battles actually began before she was even diagnosed with cancer. The youngest of four, little Aubrey was born dangerously premature at just under 2 pounds. Even still, she fought for her health and grew to be a healthy toddler.
Unfortunately, Aubrey’s mother grew concerned about her little girls health when Aubrey began frequently urinating at age 2.
“We took her into the doctor thinking maybe she had a urinary infection,” her mother, Mikeon White English, told Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “She’d been using the bathroom frequently and bed wetting, which was abnormal for her.”
That’s when she was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma – a rare type of liver cancer. Needless to say, Aubrey’s mother was shocked.
“As a nurse, knowing what I know about cancer, it was very scary for me. My husband and I were in shock,” she said.
Aubrey underwent a complex, eight-hour surgery to remove the tumor from her liver as well as 50 percent of the liver and her gallbladder. Following the operation, she ended up having six rounds of fairly intensive chemotherapy. She lost her hair, grew weak and struggled to eat, but Aubrey never lost her fighting spirit.
“Every round was worse and worse on her body,” Aubrey’s mother said. “She was so tired and weak, but she still wanted to color or put on her princess costume and run through the house. There was always a little bit of her in there that kept us going and pushed us to do and to go every single day.”
Thankfully, a successful course of treatment and an unwavering fighting spirit paid off. Now, she’s in remission and inspiring others with her story.
“She’s been fighting since the day she came into this world,” her mother said. “She wasn’t supposed to be here initially, and to fight through cancer the way she did and to keep us going the way she did, it’s all a miracle. She’s a miracle.”
What Is Liver Cancer?
Liver cancer begins in the liver – an organ located beneath the diaphragm and above the stomach. The most common form of the disease is hepatocellular carcinoma, but there are other types of liver cancers as well.
According to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Aubrey battled hepatoblastoma. And while we know that any type of liver cancer in children is extremely rare, the most common type of pediatric liver cancer is in fact hepatoblastoma, according to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Still, only 2 or 3 of 1,000,000 children will be diagnosed with the disease.
Blood tests, ultrasounds, CT scans (X-ray images), MRIs (medical imaging) and angiograms are generally used to confirm a liver cancer diagnosis. A liver biopsy, where a small piece of tissue is removed and analyzed for cancerous cells, may also be performed.
Oftentimes, a liver transplant is considered the best plan when the patient is eligible. For cases of recurrent liver cancer and cancer that has spread throughout the body, your doctor may consider targeted therapy, immunotherapy or chemotherapy as the next step.
Understanding Childhood Cancer
Treatment advances in recent decades have lead to 84 percent of children with cancer now surviving five years or more, according to the American Cancer Society. This is up from 58 percent from the mid-1970s.
But according to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, more than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors have significant health-related issues because of the current treatment options, and only 4 percent of the billions of dollars spent each year on cancer research and treatments are directed towards treating childhood cancer in the United States. Since 1980, fewer than 10 drugs have been developed for use in children with cancer while hundreds of drugs have been created exclusively for adults.
Dr. Elizabeth Raetz, director of pediatric hematology and oncology at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, reminded us in a previous interview that there is still reason for hope.
“There are also targeted treatments and different immunotherapies that have been studied in adults and have now moved into clinical trials for children and there has been a great deal of excitement in the community about that,” Dr. Elizabeth Raetz told SurvivorNet.
Still, navigating a child’s cancer diagnosis can be tricky.
Jayne Wexler’s son battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia and now deals with heart disease as a side effect of chemotherapy. In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Wexler explained that in addition to regular parent worries – having a child with cancer means living with a whole new world of anxieties.
“My husband and I will always have fear,” she said. “I don’t think we can ever let go of that. Just when he was OK, then he relapsed, and then he had the bone marrow transplant … so there’s always some sort of worry.”
Wexler admits she tries to live for each and every day, but its understandable that this does not always come easy.
“And I do try – you hear people say this – we do have to live each day and be thankful for what we have,” Wexler said. “And it’s hard to remember that when you’re caught up … it’s very hard to just sort of enjoy the moment, because we just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”