When word of the coronavirus began to spread, Annie Garner knew just what to do.
“I told my kids it was time to hunker down,” she explained. “Fighting germs is nothing new to any cancer mom.”
Annie and her family have been in that fight germs since April of 2017 – when their youngest daughter Chloe was diagnosed with an optic glioma. The discovery of a tumor behind her eye was a complete accident. She had a slight head tilt and her parents noticed her eye shaking. Since Annie’s husband, Noah, is in the Army, they took Chloe to the base physician, who said she didn’t feel prepared to diagnose it and sent them to the hospital.
“We were supposed to be there for a quick 30-minute MRI,” recalled Annie. “But that turned into five hours. When the doctor finished, he came in and told me she had a tumor.”
Because of their location, it is rare for such tumors to be surgically removed. Most of the time, the goal is to stabilize them so they do not grow. Her doctors began to closely monitor Chloe’s tumor, and nearly a year later, the tumor was declared stable. Unfortunately, tumor growth was evident at a scan four months later, and even more in the next scan. So Chloe began a chemotherapy regimen designed to shrink it.
But a year’s worth of weekly chemo yielded frustrating results.
“From October 2018 to October 2019, her tumor would be stable at one scan and then grow at the next,” Annie said. “The one result we never got was tumor shrinkage.”
This is when Annie learned how to hunker down and become diligent about providing a germ-free environment. Because of the way chemotherapy works, children in treatment often have compromised immune systems. Despite all precautions, it is very hard to keep children completely protected. Chloe missed several doses of chemotherapy because she was sick or had low white blood cell counts, and at her last scan they learned that her tumor had grown again.
Her medical team came up with a new plan that involved a drug called Avastin. So far it has been far easier on Chloe’s body, and her last scan in February yielded great results.
“For the first time, we heard the words, ‘significant tumor reduction’,” said Annie excitedly. “And she hadn’t even completed the whole cycle!”
While Chloe is finally feeling good, her vision has been affected. She has optic nerve damage from the tumor, and her vision isn’t 20/20. But right now, she’s back to dancing and enjoying her favorite movie, Frozen. Her mother describes her as feisty and stubborn – traits that helped carry her through her difficult treatment.
Chloe still receives chemotherapy, and while her family has become good at being in quarantine, Annie worries when she sees others disregarding the World Health Organization’s advice during this pandemic. Her husband is currently deployed, so Annie has to fight this battle against germs alone.
“When experts talk about the immunocompromised people who have the highest risk of complications from COVID-19… that’s Chloe,” Annie said. “This is a dangerous time for her and other kids taking chemo. I just want people to think about others right now. Whether they are young or old, this matters for a lot of people.”
Annie urges people to heed the warnings to stay home.
“For the greater good – especially for all those like Chloe who are at high risk, please just stay home,” pleads Annie.