For weeks, this two-year-old was fighting for her life.
McKenna Shea Xydias, or “Kenni,” was diagnosed with a rare ovarian yolk sac tumour in February, Good Morning America reported. The toddler from Georgia is currently being treated, but her parents Mike and Meagan are focused on raising awareness about their daughter’s condition.
Speaking on the show last week, Mike Xydias said he was “shocked” to find out his daughter had cancer.
Friends of the family set up a GoFundMe page for Kenni, asking donors to help cover the cost of the toddler’s treatments.
According to the page, Kenni had her first surgery Feb. 18. “The amazing doctors were about to remove 90 per cent of the main tumour as well as a couple other cancerous implants. They were able to keep one ovary but had to take some small intestines,” the page noted.
A week later, Kenni was diagnosed with stage three yolk sac ovarian cancer and went into chemotherapy right after.
On Sunday, the family posted an update on Kenni’s health, adding she had an appetite. “She’s still doing wonderfully,” the post read.
“While we’re hopeful things continue to go well, we’re not completely blindfolded by this and know that things will not always go this smoothly. However, in the meantime, we’ll just be thankful for what we’ve got.”
On Monday, the family announced Kenni was brought home. “We have a lot to figure out in terms of our ‘new normal,’ but we’ll get there. Ultimately, we’re just thankful to be able to come home at all with our baby.”
Ovarian cancer in children
When cancer happens in otherwise healthy young children, there is usually no immediately apparent cause, said Dr. Furqan Shaikh, staff oncologist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
“We know that cancer is caused by cells developing mutations that make them unable to stop growing, but these mutations occur randomly and are not themselves caused by anything obvious,” Shaikh explained.
“While this uncertainty can be frustrating for parents, it can also be reassuring to know that the child’s cancer was not caused by anything that the child or family did or failed to do.”
Generally, he added, ovaries develop at a young age and ovulation and hormone production begin at puberty.
Being an advocate
One of Mike and Meagan’s biggest takeaways from their experience was taking Kenni’s symptoms seriously. A month ago, their daughter’s daycare informed them she had a fever; another time, they noted that Kenni’s stomach was bloated.
“We took her to the doctor — at that point they thought it was gas so they told us to give her gas drops and let them know if she got any more fevers,” Mike told Good Morning America. The couple took their daughter to the hospital again as fevers continued, and this time doctors uncovered a mass around her arteries.
But Shaikh said not all tummy aches or bloating mean cancer, and childhood cancer is, fortunately, very rare.
“If parents are concerned that there is something worrisome going on, they should seek medical attention from their primary care physician,” he continued. “A child’s abdomen should be soft on a physician’s examination, and so the finding of a hard lump or mass on deep palpation should prompt further investigation, such as an abdominal ultrasound.”
It is also helpful for parents to ensure that they follow the recommended schedule of doctor visits with their family doctor or pediatrician, he noted, which can determine other reasons why a child may have a fever or bloated stomach.
Ovarian cancer in children
The ovary is made up of three different kinds of cells: epithelial cells (make up the lining of the ovary), germ cells (makes eggs), and stromal cells (holds the structure of the ovary together and produces hormones), Shaikh said.
“When older women get ovarian cancer, it is almost always from the epithelial cell, and is properly called ‘ovarian carcinoma.’ When young children get ovarian cancer, it is most often from the germ cell, and is called ‘ovarian germ cell tumour’ — a yolk-sac tumour is a type of germ cell tumour.”
While both carcinomas and germ cell tumours form in the ovary, they are completely different cancers. “Hence, the term ‘ovarian cancer’ can be confusing or misleading.”
READ MORE: Yorkton, Sask. girl battling ovarian cancer
When children develop an ovarian germ cell tumour, the first treatment is usually a surgery. This is to to remove the cancer with the ovary, Shaikh said.
“In some cases, if the cancer is entirely removed and there is no spread — we call this stage one — no additional treatment other than close monitoring is needed,” he said. “In cases where the tumour has spread beyond the ovary, more than stage one, chemotherapy needs to be given to clear away all the cancer cells.”
But the good news, he says, is the expected outcomes for kids with ovarian germ cell tumours is usually “very good.”
“The large majority can be cured of their cancer.”