The Resilience Of A Childhood Cancer Warrior
- Former NFL quarterback Alex Smith has bravely overcome many serious health challenges. But now his daughter, Sloane, is facing a battle of her own.
- He recently shared that Sloane underwent surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor. She’s recovered from her surgery, but the road ahead is unclear for the 6-year-old girl.
- Symptoms of brain tumors are often caused by increased pressure in the skull. Symptoms may include headache, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, balance problems, personality or behavior changes, seizures, drowsiness or even comas. It is important to note, however, that these symptoms are not exclusive to brain tumors.
- Treatment advances in recent decades have lead to 85 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 there’s still a lot of work to be done.
Smith is no stranger to health problems. Prior to his NFL retirement in April 2021, he suffered a horrible leg injury in November 2018 where he broke his right fibula and tibia, followed by a serious infection that forced doctors to weigh the option of amputating his leg for a time.Read More
Alex Smith’s Announcement
But now, the healthy retiree, who has three children with his wife, Elizabeth Barry, is turning all his attention to his only daughter. Just a few days ago, he shared a series of photos of his daughter, Sloane – one of which showed her gripping a stuffed unicorn toy with a wide toothless grin on her face. Despite her sunny disposition, however, the picture came from a hospital room where Sloane was recovering from an intense surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor.
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“This is Sloane Kenzington Smith, our baby, the youngest of three and our only girl,” he began his caption. “She is sweet, selfless, intelligent, hilarious, witty, fun-loving, an artist, a singer, and a dancing machine. But most of all she is an incredibly strong girl that has a ton of fight in her.”
He went on to explain that little Sloane was rushed to the emergency room on May 10 after experiencing “stroke-like symptoms.” An MRI revealed a large brain tumor and doctors immediately went to work by performing a craniotomy – an operation in which a piece of the skull is removed.
“The 10 hour procedure was the most excruciating time of our lives,” Smith wrote. “A clock has never moved so slowly.”
Fortunately, Sloane’s neurosurgeons at Stanford Children’s Health were able to remove “100% of the tumor.” And just like her father, Sloane has shown such resilience in her recovery.
“Sloane—in her true form—bounced back from brain surgery like a rockstar!” he wrote. “She didn’t skip a beat.”
After the tumor pathology report came back weeks later, Smith learned of his daughter’s official diagnosis.
“Sloane’s tumor is a very rare malignant tumor with very few documented cases—without a clear road map for treatment,” she explained. “We are currently awaiting more tests and gathering as many opinions as we can from doctors across the country to decide the best path forward. We wish this were easy, clear-cut and someone gave us a how-to guide. It’s anything but that.”
The road ahead is not clear for Sloane, but, for now, Smith is happy that she’s healed from her surgery and returned to “her bubbly self.”
Understanding Brain Tumors
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), brain tumors account for 85 to 90 percent of all primary central nervous system (CNS) tumors. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and acts as the main “processing center” for the nervous system. Normal function of the brain and spinal cord can become difficult if there’s a tumor present that puts pressure on or spreads into nearby normal tissue.
There are many different types of brain and spinal cord tumors. Some are more likely to spread into nearby parts of the brain or spinal cord than others. Slow-growing tumors may be considered benign, but even these tumors can cause serious problems.
General Symptoms of Brain Tumors
Symptoms of brain tumors, as a whole, are often caused by increased pressure in the skull. This pressure can be caused by tumor growth, swelling in the brain or blockage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), according to the American Cancer Society.
General symptoms may include the following:
- Blurred vision
- Balance problems
- Personality or behavior changes
- Drowsiness or even coma
But it is important to note that these symptoms are not exclusive to brain tumors. Still, you should always consult with your doctor if any health problems arise.
Understanding Childhood Cancer
Treatment advances in recent decades have lead to 85 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. Raetz told SurvivorNet.
Caring for a Child with Cancer
Still, navigating a child’s cancer diagnosis can be incredibly tricky – something Alex Smith is navigating right now.
“I know we don’t post much about our kids but we felt necessary to post this and say THANK YOU,” he said in his recent post. “Thank you to our amazing medical team, family, friends, acquaintances and even some strangers who have touched our lives in the last month and a half.
“We have struggled to keep up on calls, texts, communication and trying to keep loved ones updated. This has been by far the most challenging time we have EVER been through. We know it’s not over and we have a journey ahead of us, but without all of you we could not have gotten this far. We are sorry if we seem withdrawn. It’s because we are… We have been inundated with doctors appointments, scans, labs and trying our best to navigate through this. Most importantly, we’re healing together as a family.”
Jayne Wexler also knows how hard it can be to care for a child with cancer. She had to fill the roles of parent and cancer caregiver when her son, Justice, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Thankfully, he has since recovered.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Wexler explained how she managed to be a mother and a caregiver all at once.
“Being a caregiver is a huge job,” Wexler said. “Fortunately, my husband and family were very supportive … it’s really hard to see your child go through this. If it could be me, I would take it in a second. You just go on auto-pilot and you just do what you have to do.”
But that doesn’t mean it was always easy. Wexler admitted that as a parent caring for a child with the disease, you don’t have a lot of time to sit down and deal with your own emotions.
“You don’t have that much time for yourself,” Wexler said. “I try to stay strong, but then sometimes you just want to go and cry, and you need to cry… it’s good to cry.”
The survival rate for children with cancer has improved over the past few decades, but pediatric cancer is still an incredibly hard thing for a family to go through. In her own caregiving experience, Wexler found therapy to be a great way to process everything happening to her family. Regardless of whether it’s therapy or participating in your favorite activities or something entirely different, it’s important to find ways to also take care of yourself as you’re taking care of your child.