Nine-year-old Chloe loves so many things.
She loves the outdoors.
She loves animals.
She is crazy in love with playing softball.
A Tampa Bay Rays fan, Chloe follows her team closely. Earlier this season, she especially loved watching her favorite player, outfielder Brett Phillips, beloved for his “airplane” maneuvers on the field. After slamming a winning hit, Phillips was known to thrust his arms out as if he were flying as he navigated around the bases in joyful celebration.
“I do that, too!” Chloe says.
Lately there has been less room for baseball and all the things Chloe loves.
She has been busy fighting cancer — for a second time.
Chloe was first diagnosed as a toddler, back in 2015, with a type of lung cancer called pleuropulmonary blastoma. A caring and expert team of oncologists and surgeons at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida, guided Chloe through intensive treatments, which included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation — all to successfully “kick cancer’s butt!” — as Chloe likes to say.
But in March, after five years of being cancer free — Chloe’s care team would detect a different kind of cancer — this time, cancer of the thyroid.
“When I heard,” Chloe says, “first, I got goosebumps. Then I got scared.”
Chloe has a genetic mutation (DICER1 gene) that increases her risk of certain types of cancer. But despite the difficult news — there is more hope than ever for children like Chloe.
Thanks to advances in genetic and cancer research and to families who have chosen to participate, medical teams are now more often able to predict what cancers these children are vulnerable to, and at what age.
That’s how and why Chloe underwent a specific screening ultrasound of her thyroid, which led to her diagnosis.
Chloe was referred to Jose Canas, M.D., an endocrinologist with the Endocrinology and Diabetes Specialty Clinic at Johns Hopkins All Children’s.
“We are highly specialized here,” Canas says. “And we’re able to communicate with our pathologists, our radiologists and our surgeons to provide our expertise in the most holistic way.”
Canas took great care to talk directly to Chloe, and not over her.
“He took so much time going through things with her to bring it to her level so that she could understand what was going to happen,” says Jacquie, her mother.
Canas and the broader care team guided Chloe through the treatment plan, which included surgery as well as radiation therapy to kill any remaining potentially cancerous cells.
On the day of her surgery, Chloe was in for a special touch from the clinical staff. Every member of the pre-op team was sporting brightly colored stickers with the number 22 on them, the number on Chloe’s own softball jersey.
This was clearly Team Chloe.
Chief of the Division of Pediatric Surgery Nicole Chandler, M.D., performed Chloe’s surgery, deftly resecting her thyroid and removing any suspicious-looking lymph nodes.
“Her surgery went fantastic,” Chandler says. “She is an amazing trooper.”
Chloe’s mom describes the confidence she has with the team at Johns Hopkins All Children’s as a “home-field advantage” … expert care from clinical staff who know and care about Chloe and treat her like family.
“It’s a comfort knowing she is in the very best hands,” Jacquie says. “I trust all of them. I know they’re in it to win it for her as much as I am.”
After she recovered from surgery, Chloe bravely powered through the radiation therapy and the temporary isolation and restrictive diet that came with it.
“Children have the resilience that adults should have,” Canas says. “We should all learn from them.”
Jacquie is watching her daughter slowly regain her strength.
“Chloe is focused on doing whatever it takes,” Jacquie says. “She inspires me so much. She is just an amazing girl.”
The family stays focused on little victories to keep them going — and sometimes, perhaps even special nods from the universe.
One example comes to mind for Jacquie. In April, the Children’s Dream Fund invited Chloe to throw out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays game. Chloe was delighted to throw her pitch to none other than her favorite player, Phillips — a special surprise that night.
But the night got even better.
During an inning when Chloe was being interviewed live on camera by a Rays reporter, Phillips got up to bat. He proceeded to slam the ball into one of the farthest catwalks above the field, an automatic home run.
The catwalks are labeled A, B, C and D.
Phillips hit the C-ring.
“C,” for Chloe.
Described by Phillips as the hardest ball he’d hit in his entire major league career, the baseball player dedicated that hit to the young cancer patient.
Chloe and her family consider it a special sign to keep them moving forward.
They will need the momentum. Chloe has a year of challenges ahead as she adapts to changes in her body and new medications. Baby steps to wellness … but she is ready to play.
Chloe will be screened and monitored over the next year to ensure that she is progressing well.
For now, this little girl keeps victory in her mind’s eye …
In her thoughts she is on the ball field, thrusting her arms out in joyful celebration as she rounds the bases and slides safely into “home.”
Another winning run in the battle against childhood cancer.