Skip to main content
Jessica Tyrney's picture

My daughter Zoë is a 2-year-old toddler who is unfortunately fighting a battle against a unique brain tumor. Her fight started when she was just 15 months old and her doctors spoke one word... cancer! At the time our family lived in Honolulu, Hawaii where her father was stationed with the US Army.

Because Zoë was/is so young and her case so unique our family requested to be moved closer to family and to be seen at a specialty children's hospital— in the military this is called "compassion reassignment.”

I can't even begin to express how thankful I am that this was even an option for us. At the time we were well into our third pregnancy and expecting twin boys! I couldn't imagine how we would have survived being so far away from our family and support system. Having four little ones in just a matter of three years is obviously a lot, BUT then to have one of your precious babies become sick just takes the demands of parenthood to a whole other level. 

Not only was compassionate reassignment a blessing, so was the unit my husband was attached to. They have been more than understanding and willing to help us out in ways I didn't even know were possibilities for us. Zoë's father is able to be with her at the hospital while I am home with our other children. Having the flexibility and opportunity to be there for your sick child is a must, and I feel a huge part of this being available to us is due to Zoë's father serving in the United States Army

With our arrival at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital here in Tennessee, Zoë's doctors literally worked around the clock on her very unique case. Her diagnosis changed at least three times since this all started back in September 2015.

Unfortunately, Zoë has a very rare case for her age, and it has made every specialist work overtime to offer the best treatment with the best outcome. In October her tumor was diagnosed as a brain tumor:"ATRT" Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumor. What makes Zoë's case different then your typical brain tumor is that hers seems to have actually rooted and grew right outside of her brain and into her left eye orbit.

Zoë underwent six rounds of chemotherapy where she was admitted to the hospital, and each round lasted two to three weeks. Because it's such an aggressive tumor and she's so young she has to be watched almost every single day. She did get a very small 7-10 day break in between each round to rest at home where she has an older 3-year-old brother, and is a big sister to 5-month-old twin brothers. Zoë is currently on her way to St. Louis were she will undergo a 6-8 week radiation treatment called Proton Therapy. 

Throughout her journey I can't tell you how many times I get asked or told: "how are you?" "how do you deal with all this?" "I just couldn't imagine being you!" "I couldn't do it." "how do you feel?" "what's your secret?" "I don't know how you're surviving!”

To be honest I don't know the answers to these questions or responses to these types of comments. No one chooses to have cancer; unfortunately cancer is very unfair and completely changes your life forever.

When we started having Zoë tested and examined I never in my lifetime thought the doctors would pull us into a private room and say the "C" word. Her results came back and they instantly knew our 15 month old baby had a life threatening illness... Cancer!

It didn't hit me until they started discussing all the details of treatment. My daughter has what? She'll have what done? How many times? Surgery? Chemotherapy? Radiation? She'll get sick? What is a port? How long does this last? Is she in pain? What does all this mean?

I had her in my arms as they talked and informed us of this scary word: CANCER! I started bawling my eyes out as I hugged and kissed my precious innocent child. How could this be! What happened! I don't understand! We took our baby home that afternoon and I just held her and cried as I started to think about everything we as a family could possibly go through.

More emotionally I thought about the fight my baby was about to go through. I just couldn't wrap my headed around it all, honestly I didn't have time to because since that day we have been nonstop with doctors visits, MRIs, CTs, surgeries, clinic visits, exams/test, more doctor consultants, and so on and so on.

When I say it takes over your life it literally does! Everything is now centered around cancer, everything! Trust me I have had more than enough weak moments where I have completely lost it and felt like "this has got to end" "I can't take anymore" "what am I supposed to do" "this is so unfair!!”

And then I look into the eyes of my cancer fighting daughter and realize this isn't about me and I need to show her what strength, faith, bravery, love, support, and life is all about. She is my superhero and I'm just her sidekick! For being so young and completely clueless about what's going on she has shown me a new meanings to all things courageous. No one gets time to process how to live with cancer or how their battle will end. The only thing you can do is keep on living life!

So for the past year of Zoë's journey that is exactly what we have done as a family, we have continued to live our lives out to the fullest. Cancer will not slow us down or get in our way! Zoë is fighting and her fighting game is strong!

This will all soon be a part of our past and we will look back on it and think "man, what a wild ride that was, and look at us now, a family that survived together." We may be a new family of six, but our family love is deep and we all keep each other strong.

As we near the end of Zoë's chemo treatments and get ready for her upcoming radiation treatments we keep in mind "that this too shall pass.” Zoë is a beautiful ray of sunshine in this dark storm and when we hear the words "cancer free" the skies will clear and a perfect rainbow will appear showing us the promise for a better tomorrow. 

Though Zoë be but little, she is fierce! 

If you would like to follow along with our journey, you can do so at Facebook:


The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of strongly encourages our readers to post comments in response to blog posts. We value diversity of opinions and perspectives. Our goals for this space are to be educational, thought-provoking, and respectful. So we actively moderate comments and we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that undermine these goals. Thanks!