How Kennedy took on cancer and won

Centre County family credits Four Diamonds for support during daughter’s cancer treatment

By Jean Waverka

On March 31, 2019, Kim Wilson packed up her daughters for a trip to the grocery store but instead made a detour to the emergency department. She was in search of an explanation for the nausea, vomiting and headaches that her 3-year-old daughter Kennedy had been experiencing.

Just a few hours later, instead of leaving to get groceries, the Bellefonte, Pa. family headed to Penn State Health Children’s Hospital in Hershey. The diagnosis was medulloblastoma. Kennedy needed emergency surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor.

During the eight-hour surgery, doctors removed all of the tumor. But her treatment was only beginning. For the next four months, Kennedy endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Because she experienced difficult side effects that required hospital care, all her treatment was completed as an inpatient.

“Kennedy lived inside those hospital walls,” Kim said. “It was hard seeing her miss out on fun activities, being outside, swimming, being with friends and just being a kid. And, on top of all that, she was sick.”

Helping to ease the burden was Four Diamonds, a children’s cancer foundation that assists children treated at the Children’s Hospital. Since its founding in 1972, it has helped more than 4,800 childhood cancer patients and their families through a combination of comprehensive care, support and innovative research.

While Kennedy enjoyed the music and art therapy, visits from the therapy dogs and planned activities, her parents continue to be thankful for the foundation’s efforts to find improved treatments and cures.

“For me, the most important part of the work Four Diamonds does is research,” Kim said. “Research to find better treatment. Research for a cure so no other child and family has to hear those words ─ your child has cancer.”

After months of difficult treatment and just one day before she turned 4 years old, Kennedy reached her cancer-free day. Still her medical care continued for three more years – years that her family describes as happy but challenging at the same time. Regular follow-up care, although important, is a reminder that a cancer patient’s journey never ends.

”The reality is, this is our story, our journey, and a huge part of our lives,” Kim wrote in a Facebook post. “It is hard to look back, but sometimes looking back reminds us how far we’ve come. And, it also reminds us of what’s important and why we keep going.”

Four years after Kennedy’s initial diagnosis, regular scans are still a part of life for the active 7-year-old, but they’ve become fewer and farther between. With each new milestone, Kim says the enormity of what her daughter has achieved makes her emotional. While she admits to shedding some tears of fear, they are mostly tears of happiness.

“We did it. We got this far,” she said. “KENNEDY did it.”