LAND O' LAKES, Fla.- — A 4-year-old Pasco County girl is battling medulloblastoma after having symptoms earlier this year.
Gabriela and Andrew Southwick said their daughter developed a headache and neck pain in January of 2021. Her parents took her to a pediatrician.
"They said it didn't sound like anything serious. It could be a stomach bug, wait and see," recalled Gabriela Southwick.
As symptoms progressed, her parents took her again to see a doctor.
"We went to the ER a couple times. They gave her IV fluids thinking it was a stomach bug," she added.
Doctors did a CT scan and diagnosed Emersyn with stage 4 medulloblastoma.
According to the Mayo Clinic, medulloblastoma is a cancerous (malignant) brain tumor that starts in the lower back part of the brain, called the cerebellum. The cerebellum is involved in muscle coordination, balance, and movement.
"It is one of the more common brain cancers in kids. Stage four just means that it has spread so it wasn't a single tumor that they could take out. Although, they took out one tumor initially," said Gabriela.
"I would say we were both in shock for several days after the initial diagnosis," added Emersyn's father, Andrew.
The 4-year-old received chemotherapy. She had complications and was hospitalized at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital for nearly 6 months. She also needed radiation. Her parents took her to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando.
Emersyn rang the bell about 2 weeks ago.
"For radiation, at the end, regardless whether you're actually cancer-free or no more tumors are seen, they ring the bell because it's a huge accomplishment and with radiation, it's one and done. We can't go back and do more radiation so if this works then it's great. If not, we can't go back and do more," said Gabriela.
Emersyn's fight continues. She will participate in a clinical trial and take oral medication twice a day.
"There's a lot of grief and a lot of heartache because you have plans and hopes for your kid and so we really struggled with that," said Gabriela.
Andrew and Gabriela both left their jobs as teachers in Pasco County so they could care for their daughter. They both taught at Sunlake High School.
"We're just incredibly fortunate that our community, the people that we love the most have stepped up. I mean, it's amazing and overwhelming because I'm not one to ask for help," said Gabriela.
"You never think it's going to be your kid or and especially not for something as minor as a pain in their neck or vomiting. The scary part is that's how most childhood cancers are diagnosed...like a little symptom like that, all of a sudden they're walking funny or they complained that their leg hurts, little things like that," she added.