Victoria showed the first signs of a serious illness in January of last year.
“She became very sick, very suddenly,” said Vanessa Fox, Victoria’s mom. “We took her to see the pediatrician, but he couldn’t find anything wrong.”
Soon after, Fox noticed something was off about her daughter’s right eye.
“It just wasn’t right. It wasn’t very noticeable, but it made me really concerned,” she said.
One afternoon when Victoria was watching cartoons, Fox covered her daughter’s left eye and asked if she could see the TV. Victoria could not.
“We went straight back to the doctor and he ordered a CT scan. That night we found out it was a tumor,” said Fox.
Childhood cancer is not uncommon, but sadly it is not rare. The experience of Victoria is worth reflecting on this month, with September being Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. The national program seeks to raise awareness as well as honor the courage and perseverance of affected families.
In February 2011, Victoria was diagnosed with parameningeal embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma, a type of cancer that can appear during a child’s first decade of life.
“It was very hard to swallow,” said Fox. “We just prayed.”
Victoria received proton therapy, a treatment that is very precise and minimizes the risk of damaging surrounding tissue, at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in Houston. Dr. Anita Mahajan, Victoria’s radiation oncologist, said she will never forget the girl and her family.
“She is such a strong and precocious little girl,” said Mahajan. “She will always stick in my mind as the youngest child who did not require sedation for treatment. She would stay perfectly still.”
Fox said they would call the MRIs “taking pictures,” in order to create a positive association with the treatment.
“It was a very hard experience on all of us,” said Fox. “Especially at first, it was difficult to get Victoria to take all of the medications she needed.”
Although the tumor left Victoria blind in her right eye, she responded well to the treatment.
In October, the Make-a-Wish Foundation granted her wish to visit Disney World. While Make-a-Wish representatives were at the Fox family home, Victoria’s oncologist phoned: Her tumor was gone.
The family celebrated her remission in Orlando, Fla.
“It was a miracle,” said Vanessa Fox. “We were so unbelievably happy. It was one of the best days!” With spirit and ease, Victoria brings levity to the conversation. When asked about her experience with cancer, she said she first wanted to talk about kindergarten.
“Today we learned: Don’t smack too much; don’t drink so much or eat candy so much,” Victoria said. “It is important to eat healthy and eat your veggies to keep your body healthy and strong.”
As for her own favorite foods, Victoria said she enjoys cheese pizza and applesauce.
With the cancer almost a year in remission, the girl appreciates the role of good health. That’s a lesson she learned even before kindergarten.