Every child’s cancer diagnosis is horrible. In Willow’s case, add in the timing of it taking place just before her third birthday — during Hurricane Irma when her dad and sister couldn’t be with her during initial treatment — and it’s even worse.
The team at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital stepped up in September 2017 to make the day special for Willow and her mother, Jennifer Newman, with a Frozen-themed mini-party. A video capturing the moment went viral after getting picked up by CNN.
Strength and Perseverance
Thankfully, four years later, Willow is in remission from her pre-B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (pre B-ALL). She finished chemotherapy in November 2019.
“The day Willow rang the golden bell signaling no more chemo will forever be one of my favorite moments and still brings tears of joy to my eyes,” Newman says.
“Nothing is more gratifying than seeing children put cancer in their rearview mirror and thrive,” says Willow’s physician Peter Shaw, M.D., deputy director of the Cancer and Blood Disorders Institute at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
Now, Willow is ready to celebrate her seventh birthday party, which coincides with another year of being in clinical remission.
“Putting the past four years into words is difficult,” Newman says. “There are so many memories that are hard to revisit, her diagnosis, the countless days Willow spent getting chemo, losing her hair, her struggles walking during treatment and sadly at points even losing her bubbly personality. But there were also some amazing things. Our daughter showed us the true definition of strength and perseverance.”
Willow’s oncology team sees her regularly for blood work and checkups. She is also monitored by cardiology and nephrology to monitor her high blood pressure, a side effect of some of the medication she received.
“Overall, her health is great. We felt so much love from our wonderful friends and family, so much support from local childhood cancer foundations, and of course from our amazing team at Johns Hopkins All Children’s,” says Newman.
Childhood Cancer Awareness Month
September is “Go Gold” month for raising awareness about childhood cancer.
“I’d like parents to know that childhood cancer can affect kids of all ages, backgrounds and usually with no family history,” says Newman. “It’s important to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms, just as you do for flu or strep throat, and advocate for your child if you feel something is wrong.”
Newman encourages families to email their government officials and ask them to make finding cures a priority.
“You truly can make a difference,” says Jennifer. “Community support is also important for the clinical team who treat children like Willow.”
“Childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia like Willow’s is overall curable, but we need better therapy for kids who relapse,” says Shaw. “Supporting the Cancer and Blood Disorders Institute allows our patients to have access to any cutting-edge therapy that becomes available.”
It’s Party Time
For Willow’s 7th birthday, she looks forward to a roller-skating party with her friends and family, complete with a piñata and a pink birthday cake.
“She’s been counting down the days for months.”
Visit hopkinsallchildrens.org/giving to learn more about ways to support cancer treatment at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.
Presented by Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital | photo credit: Jennifer Newman | Originally published in our 2021 September Issue