Carolina is 15 years old, and lives with her family in Florida. This is her story:
February 23, 2014, started with Carolina waking Tabitha and I up around 2:30 a.m., with a very bad headache and vomiting. We put her in bed with us, but she just tossed and turned and moaned a lot. By 6:30 a.m. we were at the ER to hopefully find out what was wrong.
After a few tests came back normal, the Dr. was wanting to send us home. Carolina continued to vomit, so the Dr. decided to admit her to run a few more tests. After Carolina's blood work came back normal, the Dr. again was thinking of sending us home with some medicine to help with Carolina's "stomach bug." Tabitha had kept a calendar chart of every time Carolina had thrown up, dating back to early January. After reviewing the chart, Dr. Adkison decided to have Carolina needed to have a MRI.
A little after 8:30 p.m., our world was turned upside down. The head Dr. on duty took us into a little room and delivered the devastating news. "The MRI shows a mass in the back of Carolina's head. The neurosurgeon has been called, and he will be here to discuss the details with you in about an hour. Carolina's surgery is scheduled for 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. I am so sorry." Tabitha began to cry, and my body went numb. This could not be happening. It felt like a bad dream that I could not wake up from. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't.
As Tabitha's parents wrapped their arms around her, I had to go for a walk. I could not breathe in that little room. I returned to Carolina's room just to be near her. She was becoming unresponsive. She was completely worn out. Vomiting 17 times in 1 day will do that. The Dr. wanted to move her to ICU, so she could be observed more closely throughout the night, until her surgery the next morning. We convinced Tabitha to go home and get some rest, because Carolina would need her after surgery. My sister-in-law, Amy Player, volunteered to stay with me throughout the night in the ICU room.
I was exhausted. I drifted off to sleep a little after 11 p.m. I have no idea how, but around 11:45 p.m., I heard Carolina moan. I jumped off the couch just as she sat up in bed. I held a pan in front of her. She dry heaved once, and fell back in the bed. Then Carolina quit breathing. I yelled for help and nurses came from everywhere.
The tumor had sealed off the ventricle that allows fluid to go down the spinal cord, and pressure had built up on her brain. Carolina needed emergency surgery to relieve the pressure on her brain. Amy and I were sent to the waiting room for the next hour and a half while they worked to stabilize her. For about 45 minutes, I was convinced that Carolina was gone!
The emergency surgery was a success, and Carolina was back on schedule to have brain surgery later that morning. If we would have taken her home, she would not have lived through the night.
February 24, 2014, was the longest day of my life. Tabitha joined me at the hospital around 7a.m., to be with Carolina until she went to surgery. Watching Carolina disappear behind the Operating Room doors was one of the hardest moments of my life. I felt completely helpless. I was completely helpless, which is exactly where my God wanted me. It was at that moment, when I could do nothing in my own strength, that my God wrapped His arms around my heart, and I knew that everything would be ok.
A little before 7 p.m. Dr. Ranalli walked into the room. I was so nervous as he began to speak. "I was able to completely remove the visible tumor in its entirety. Carolina will have another MRI in the morning to make sure I got everything." Those were the sweetest words that I had ever heard. The entire waiting room gave Dr. Ranalli a standing ovation. The MRI the next morning confirmed that 100% of the tumor was removed. Carolina spent 10 days in Wolfson Children’s Hospital recovering.
Pathology confirmed Carolina had A cancerous brain tumor, Meduloblastoma. Carolina had 30 days of Proton Radiation treatment and 7 rounds of chemotherapy. She finished her treatments on January 19, 2015. Every MRI has come back clean, and Carolina now has a MRI every year to make sure nothing is regrowing.
On February 24, 2016, she and her family founded The Believe Foundation, to walk the journey of Childhood Cancer with other families. The Believe Foundation host various Childhood Cancer Awareness sporting events, partnering with local high schools.
Carolina and her family are currently building a farm to raise miniature horses, miniature cows, miniature goats, miniature pigs, miniature donkeys, etc. The goal is to provide an experience with miniature animals for emotional and physical therapy to the children and families that are fighting or have fought Childhood Cancer.