Mother’s Day weekend of 2018 marks the start of five year old Yemayah McNeil’s battle for life. Her initial complaint to her mother was a headache, which was followed by several bouts of nausea and vomiting over the course of the weekend. However, each time she would get sick, she seem to recovery quickly and rejoin her family and friends in the celebratory activities that had become a Mother’s Day custom in her large family. The week after returning from the beach Yemayah’s “virus like” persisted. Her mother was called by the school three consecutive days to pick her up due to complaints of headaches, vomiting, and wanting to sleep during class. By day four of that week, Yemayah started exhibiting another alarming symptom. She began to hold her head at a peculiar angle and staggered when she walked. Convinced that the headache, nausea, and now imbalance issues were related to an inner ear infection, her mom took her to urgent care so that she could be prescribed a round of antibiotics. However, upon examination both ears were clear of infection and there was no fever to suggest that any type of infection was present. Uncomfortable with the lack of answers that she had be given, Yemayah mom insisted that something was wrong with her daughter and more testing needed to be done. The urgent care physician agreed with her mom’s concerns and immediately referred Yemayah to WakeMed Pediatric Emergency room. On May 22, 2018, less than six weeks after Yemayah’s father unexpectantly died from complication from diabetes, a CAT scan revealed a large mass pressing against the base of her brainstem. The mass, which was later diagnosed as a Medulloblastoma (cancerous brain tumor), was so large that it caused Yemayah’s intracranial pressure to increase, thus leading to her headaches, vomiting, and imbalance. Yemayah was transported via ambulance to Duke University Medical center that night and on May 23, 2018 she underwent a six hour brain surgery to remove the brain tumor to save her life.
Three weeks following her brain surgery the pathology report confirmed that not only was the mass that was removed from Yemayah’s brain a medulloblastoma but it was the rarest type of medulloblastoma. The wingless (WNT) tumor account for only 11% of all medulloblastomas. Although the WNT tumor was the least common subgroup, studies indicate that it has the most favorable prognosis.
One month after Yemayah’s brain surgery she began a clinical trial that was investigating the use of moderate chemotherapy only for the treatment of WNT tumors. Because the subtype of tumor was so rare, she was only the fifth child to be entered in the trial. The chemotherapy treatments were tough on Yemayah from the start. The combination of chemotherapy drugs immediately took a toll on her body and what should have been a treatment round of just a few days inpatient was always extended to an few more than anticipated and many more complications than anticipated. However, her 3 month and 6 months MRI showed now regrowth of tumor indicating that the treatment was effective for her.
In October of 2018, Yemayah’s mother was informed by her oncologist that two children had relapsed on the treatment protocol therefore the clinical trial was being terminated and the five children that were still in the clinical trial would be transitioned to one of two standard treatments for medulloblastomas. Given the choice of a treatment of radiation and chemotherapy or a treatment of intensified chemotherapy with a stem cell transplant, Yemayah mother chose the latter option to spare her young daughter of radiation. Her new treatment protocol consisted of two induction cycles with intensified chemotherapy and one consolidation round followed by stem cell transplant.
The intensified chemotherapy protocol proved to be challenge for Yemayah from the very start. Her first induction cycle caused her to be hospitalized for 24 day in November of 2018. Her second induction cycle caused her to be hospitalized for 23 days in December of 2018. Both induction cycles Yemayah suffered from life threating blood infections.
On February 26, 2019 Yemayah started her final consolidation round of chemotherapy. On March 8, 2019, she received a life-saving stem cell transplant. Unfortunately, instead of her recovery process being hastened by the stem cell transplant, Yemayah suffered from severe cardiac, renal, lung, and bowel complications, which resulted in her being transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for a month. Three of the weeks she was on life support. Yemayah has since been transferred from PICU back to the Pediatric Blood and Bone Marrow unit at Duke University Medical Center where she is slowly recovering. She has made amazing progress but still has a ways to go. We are confident that with time and continued medical intervention she will be able to make a full recovery and return to the life of a healthy happy six year old kid.
Preston's League has been a major blessing to our family. Things we may need on a weekly basis are brought to us at the hospital. Due to me being Yemayah’s primary caregiver, there are some weeks that I do not get to leave the hospital. Having an organization that not only cover the cost of the essentials but also hand deliver them to you is amazing! It takes a village not only to raise a child but to heal a child. I am so glad that Preston’s League is part of my village.