Genetics help mother and daughter curb cancer

CLEVELAND — It was a Sunday afternoon in Brecksville, according to Sonja Crouch everything was normal. She says her five-year-old daughter, Audrey, was an ordinary child.

“It came quite out of nowhere for us. We hadn’t noticed any other activity. She didn’t have a headache or anything,’ she explained.

Suddenly Audrey had a seizure.

“We called an ambulance. They came for her. They did the CT scan and found her tumor,” Crouch said.

An MRI scan revealed that Audrey had a rare brain cancer called astroblastoma. Describing the moment, Crouch said, “It was a real eye-opener that this could happen to anyone at any time.”

Audrey’s treatment at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital began almost immediately and her tumor was successfully removed.

“It’s every parent’s nightmare, and I don’t think anyone could be willing to take such news,” said pediatric neuropsychologist Dr. Neha Patel.

dr. Patel explained that Audrey recovered without a hitch, but they soon realized that the tumor they removed was different.

“It’s a high figure. It’s a malignant tumor,” Patel said. “The high-grade glioma in adults is almost life-threatening, but just like in children, there are some tumors that behave very aggressively and can affect their lives as well as others.”

However, Patel says children like Audrey can live happily with the right treatment.

“In Audrey’s case, they didn’t know until some molecular and genetic tests came in if she would need future treatments,” Crouch said.

Through genetic mapping, which has evolved over the past five years, Audrey’s doctors were able to choose the right treatment and give Audrey the best chance of preventing her tumor from coming back.

But Audrey’s fertility was at stake. Yet Crouch believed in her daughter’s doctors.

“There are always about seven steps ahead of us,” she said.

Patel and her team performed an ovarian preservation operation. She says Audrey was their first patient where they did ovarian conservation. They took a small sample of ovarian tissue and frozen it for the future.

As Audrey recovered, the genetic map used to treat her spawned a new discovery in her mother. Crouch says the results showed she had a genetic mutation that increases her chances of developing cancer.

“I wasn’t too surprised because the family history said they wanted to test it and they’ve been doing a lot of screening for the different types of cancer since then,” she said. “Fortunately, they have all come back clean so far.”

They’ve come a long way since that one Sunday in Brecksville, and while things aren’t what they expected, Crouch and Audrey are living their new normal.

“Audrey’s been a real trooper,” Crouch said.

Now Audrey is pushing ahead with six months of treatment to go.

“The team we have here and her positivity have made it so much easier to get through,” Crouch said.

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