As she gets older, Zéa is realizing that she’s different. While wearing ballet slippers, the little girl who loves to bop around to music looked at her mother and said, “My feet are broken, Mama.”
But Zéa — with the help of her family, doctors and a variety of physical therapists — has overcome tremendous obstacles just to live.’Covered with cancer’
Zéa was a happy, healthy baby for the first few months of her life in Miami. Then, she started running a fever that spiked to 106 degrees by the time she arrived at the hospital. It was the only sign that something was wrong. The hospital staff ran every test imaginable. An MRI revealed the truth that her parents had not dared to imagine.
“She was covered with cancer,” said her mother, Heather Lane. “She had a primary area on her spine, and from there, she had disease that had spread to her liver, lungs, kidneys, bone marrow, even in her skull. We nearly lost her at that point.”
They had never heard of neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that largely affects very young children. There are about 700 cases a year in the United States, accounting for 6% of cancer in children, according to the American Cancer Society.
While Zéa was still sedated, her parents had to make a choice within 15 minutes: major surgery to remove the tumor or begin chemotherapy immediately.
The neurosurgeon and the oncologist didn’t agree. It was up to her parents. They opted for the surgery.
“The tumors were compressing her spine, and it had deviated her spine to the point where they were worried she would be permanently paralyzed for life,” Lane said.
After the surgery, Zéa became paralyzed from the chest down.Two days after her surgery, Zéa began her first cycle of chemotherapy. She would undergo eight total, staying in the intensive care unit for weeks.
The surgery was tough on Zéa, but it was nothing compared to the chemo. Each round contained four types of chemotherapy “cocktails,” all with different side effects, and she handled some better than others, her mother said.
Some of them would wipe out her immune system to the point where she needed blood transfusions. Her mother lost count of how many Zéa had.
“Every time she would get another dose of chemo, I literally watched the life slip away and return,” Lane said. “She turned gray. And then when she would have a blood transfusion to bring her counts back up, then the life would literally come back. It was incredible.”