Sarah Lock could not get the word out when she made the call to her husband, Sean. She had just gotten news of their daughter Emma’s diagnosis, and she could not say that word every parent fears: cancer.
A couple months prior, Emma was like any other 3-year-old. Pink was her favorite color, pizza her favorite food and the news she would soon be a big sister excited her. But Emma kept getting sick. First, a stomach bug sidelined her and then an ear infection.
How it Started
In December 2011, when Emma woke up one morning with her jaw’s right side swollen as big as a softball, Sarah and Sean drove her an hour from their home in Maypearl, Texas, to the Children’s Emergency Department. When she was admitted to Children’s, doctors found her jaw full of dead tissue, which they performed surgery to remove.
Emma remained hospitalized while her doctors ran numerous tests during the next 21 days. The last test came back positive for leukemia.
It was Jan. 11, 2012. Sean was at home working when Sarah called with the news: Doctors diagnosed Emma with pre-B cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). “We were really in shock,” says Sarah, four months pregnant at the time with the couple’s second child. “You think, ‘This will never happen to my kid.’ Of course, you don’t want to see any child with cancer, but when it’s your own kid, it’s very shocking.”
ALL is the most common childhood leukemia, with very good survival rates. But treatment is intense, as with any childhood cancer. Emma’s first treatment phase, called induction, spanned five weeks and required chemotherapy multiple times a week. Sarah had to quit working to meet the demands of the treatment routine while Sean worked long hours in order to make it to Emma’s treatments and still keep the family’s T-shirt production business going.
Emma entered remission after that initial phase, with less than 0.01% cancer cells in her bone marrow. Her chemo treatments dropped to a couple times a week, and then down to once a week through the spring and summer. In November, one month after her fourth birthday, Emma completed her sixth treatment phase, which had required two types of chemo every 10 days.