Young cancer survivor to begin kindergarten next year

Wednesday, June 8, 2011
Future rock star Democrat Photo After surviving a bout with stage III neuroblastoma cancer, young Shawn Craig has decided to become a rock star when she grows up. Pictured above, from left, are: Jordan Craig, of Rocky Comfort, with her daughter, Shawn Craig. "She's tough," Jordan said. "She's bouncy and active and has even gained some weight." Jordan will be starting school in the Purdy District next fall.

Jordan Craig, of Rocky Comfort, was aware there was something just not right about her daughter, Shawn, taking ill every three weeks.

The single mother could count it like clockwork.

"She'd be fine for three weeks and then she'd be sick for a week," Craig said. "Then there was a lump on the side of her neck. The doctor said it was a swollen lymph gland and told me not to worry."

But Craig did worry, especially as the bump grew bigger and her daughter's repeated cycles of feeling well then ill continued unabated.

"It got to where the doctor wouldn't even see me anymore," Craig said. "She'd send in a nurse practitioner or another doctor.

"We finally changed doctors, transferring her to Aurora," Craig continued. "The new pediatrician sent Shawn to a specialist, and he removed a tumor about the size of a baseball from her neck."

It was then that Craig got the news no mother ever wants to hear.

"They tested it and initially it came back as a benign tumor," Craig said. "But they sent the mass in for further testing and it came back as malignant."

At the age of 4, Shawn was diagnosed with stage III neuroblastoma, a tumor of nerve tissue that develops primarily in infants and children and can occur in many areas of the body. It develops from the tissues that form the sympathetic nervous system, which controls body functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure, digestion and hormones.

Tumors most commonly begin in the abdomen but may also occur in other areas, spreading to the lymph nodes, liver, bones and bone marrow.

"It wasn't anything that I had done during my pregnancy," Craig said. "I thought about that a million times.

"The cycle of being healthy for three weeks and then being sick for a week is also common with this type of cancer," Craig added.

It is also typical that children under the age of 10 are generally the ones who develop this particular type of cancer.

"I was pregnant at the time that Shawn started chemo, and the first round went okay," Craig said. "But the second round hit her hard. She was nauseated. She lost her hair. She was really sick.

"The worst part was that I just found out that I was pregnant again, and I couldn't hold Shawn when she was throwing up because of the chemo," Craig continued. "If any of it had absorbed through my skin, it could have affected the baby."

A supportive family structure; mom, dad, sisters and grandparents all pitched in to help whenever and wherever they could.

"It was really hard watching her be sick and having to see other people hold her and take care of her," Craig said. "She never complained, and she never really cried. She's pretty tough."

Shawn never asked the hard questions. "Why did this happen?" and "Why me?" aren't a part of this little trooper's vocabulary.

"We explained to her what was going on and that the chemo might make her feel bad for right now but it would make her better," Craig said. "I now feel the need to take her in for every little thing. I want to catch it before it can get that far. I'm paranoid about the baby, too."

After four rounds of chemo, Craig told Shawn that she thought they were finished with the therapy, but Shawn responded in a surprising way.

"I'm not done with chemo," she said. "Aunt Monica and Jesus are fixing me."

Monica was Craig's sister who had died of cancer at a very young age. The two had never met.

"Shawn insisted that Jesus and Aunt Monica were watching over her and that she would get well," Craig said.

After two more rounds of chemo to kill off a few pea-sized tumors that were on the other side of her neck, Shawn announced, "Now it's gone."

And with her next scan, three weeks later, doctors discovered her statement to be true.

"I hope she continues to get better," Craig said. "No child should have to go through that. I just want both kids to have a normal life."

The Make A Wish Foundation recently helped Shawn realize one of her dreams -- to be a rock star.

"They gave her an electric guitar because her fake plastic ones weren't cutting it anymore," Craig laughed. "It's a small one. I think it's still a little too big for her, but she plays it."

Craig said Shawn is an avid Brett Michaels fan and plays Guitar Hero daily.

"She has free lessons, but I want to wait until she's a little older," Craig said. She's shooting up like a weed, now."

In addition to putting on a little weight, Shawn's most recent scans have come back good, as has her white blood cell count.

"She's feeling great," Craig said. "She'll be starting school in August. I'm hoping we get back to a normal sense of life."

For Shawn, that means scans every six months for awhile then tapering off to once a year. It means school, Guitar Hero, and a new baby sister, Joelie, to play with and be an older sister to.

For Craig, it's a time to get back into the workforce and possibly take college classes again. It's about making sure her child has a clean bill of health.

"There's nothing wrong with me," Shawn said. "I'm not going to have to have chemo again."

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