With both hands, Martha grabbed her 6-year-old Jazlyn’s hips, shifting her left and then right. Martha, ran her hands over her little girl’s belly. “What is that?” she thought to herself, trying to make sense of the bump on her daughter’s belly.

“Does your stomach hurt?” said Martha. “Do you feel sick?”

“Nope,” said Jazlyn. “Mom, can I wear my princess shirt today?”

Questions and worries crept into Martha’s mind. “I’ll call the doctor, she’ll be fine,” she hoped.

Jazlyn’s pediatrician urged them to go to the Emergency Department at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach designed specifically to treat kids. An abdominal ultrasound discovered a large abdominal mass. Jazlyn was admitted to the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center (JJCCC) for further evaluation.

A CT of Jazlyn’s chest, abdomen and pelvis revealed a large 14-cm soft tissue mass — about the size of a large grapefruit. The mass was in Jazlyn’s lower abdomen and pelvis, and appeared to arise from between the rectum and bladder, severely compressing her colon. A surgical biopsy of the abdominal mass found that it was consistent with an embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS) — a malignant soft tissue tumor that is formed from embryonic skeletal muscle tissue, the type of tissue that grows into skeletal muscles. Treating ERMS would involve a very long, aggressive treatment regimen.

The CT also revealed that Jazlyn had a mass, about the size of a marble, in her lung. This second mass in her lung meant Jazlyn was at stage IV cancer.

Jazlyn’s care team worked with her parents to plan several different treatments, including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to help her fight the cancer. The mass in her abdomen was so large that it would be too dangerous for surgical removal. A strategy was put in place to shrink the mass.  

Within a week of admission, a port-a-cath — a device used to give intravenous fluids, blood transfusions, chemotherapy and other drugs — was placed under the skin in the right side of Jazlyn’s chest. A port-a-cath may stay in place for weeks or months and helps avoid the need for repeated needle sticks.

Everything was happening fast for Jazlyn. “This was no place for a princess and I don’t like cancer,” she thought. With every new procedure Jazlyn withdrew and eventually stopped talking.

Jazlyn’s care team wouldn’t let her lose her princess power. From the point of admission they fought cancer by her side. JJCCC’s distinguished medical programs are staffed by a multi-disciplinary pediatric hematology/oncology care team, complete with Child Life Specialists.

Child Life Specialists help children learn about their illnesses and prepare them for procedures through medical play. A dedicated hematology/oncology playroom helps patients find comfort through play and allows them to spend time with family and friends.

“Play is an important part of a child’s understanding of the world around them,” says Rosemarie Mills, Child Life Specialist. “Medical play helped Jazlyn work through her experience.”

Through play, Jazlyn regained her confidence and was back to enjoying arts & crafts and dressing up as a princess.

Child Life also supported Jazlyn during radiation therapy. For kids in general, radiation treatment can be scary, but at Miller Children’s we have Waldo Guzman, radiation therapist, who takes his time introducing the procedure to patients.

“Kids like Jazlyn get a tour of the radiation room,” says Waldo. “We even peek in the cupboards so they can see there aren’t any monsters. Then we talk about holding still during treatment. Child Life is a big help, they provide prizes for the kids after every treatment. Soon the kids look forward to coming and shake their fears.”  

Jazlyn would undergo radiation for months to completely shrink the mass in her lung. The mass in her abdomen shrunk to a size safe enough to be removed surgically in Jan. 2017. Although near the end of her chemotherapy, Jazlyn’s fight continues.  

For a girl like Jazlyn, cancer can seem like a fire breathing dragon, ready to desolate her health. But with her loved ones by her side, support from her comprehensive care team at JJCCC and princess power, she can show cancer what little girls are made of — glitter, giggles and grit.