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Meet Erin, Brain Tumor Survivor

Meet Erin, Brain Tumor Survivor

To many, Erin seemed like an average 16 year old. She loved horses, travel, fashion, and simply hanging out with her friends. She anxiously awaited prom, spending extra time with her Mom, Brandy, to select the perfect dress that would ensure her night was amazing. As Erin began preparing for her final years of high school she dreamed of what next adventure might be around the corner for her. However, one early morning in May 2015, her life took an unexpected turn.

She woke up that morning with a horrible headache and felt like half of her face was numb. She shrugged it off as being dehydrated or possibly sleeping in an awkward position. Erin went about her day, marching in two parades with her school’s band until she met up with her Mom and Dad, Jim, later that evening. Concerned about their daughter’s symptoms not improving, Brandy and Jim took her to the emergency room. Emergency room doctors initially thought Erin was suffering from a severe migraine. During a return visit, the hospital ordered a computerized tomography (CT) scan, the physicians identified a mass on Erin’s brain and from that point on the next few days were a blur for the family.

The family traveled by ambulance from their local hospital in Silverdale to Seattle Children’s Hospital for care. Erin was quickly scheduled for biopsy surgery.  One day later, Erin had a second surgery to place a shunt in her brain to help with draining the extra fluid around her brain.  With prom just one week away, her team at Children’s did everything they could to preserve as much of her hair as possible and Erin was delighted with the outcome. Despite the tremendously difficult week she had just faced, Erin found the courage to rally for prom and had an absolutely fantastic time dancing the night away feeling beautiful with her friends. She quickly adopted the Rachel Platten’s pop hit “Fight Song” as her motto for the next few months as she began to navigate her journey to wellness.

Once the results of the biopsy were in, the family was confronted with their worst fears; it was a brain tumor. Erin was diagnosed with Ependymoma, a tumor that arises from tissue of the central nervous system. Having gone through the devastating experience of losing a child once before, her parents were on a mission to find the best treatment for their daughter.

The family met her Seattle Children’s doctors, including her surgeon, medical oncologist and her radiation oncologist who discussed various treatment options for Erin. With the location of her tumor being so close to several critical areas of the brain and also the likely side effects of treatment, Erin and her parents chose to pursue proton therapy. They felt that proton therapy’s ability to treat Erin’s tumor with a great level of precision while still preserving much of the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor was their best option.

While enduring treatments five days a week took an emotional toll on Erin, she tried to maintain a positive outlook on her situation and remind herself that she was more than her diagnosis. She and her family found refuge at the Ronald McDonald House during treatment and also felt comfort in connecting with other families who were facing difficult situations. Erin also became best friends with a fellow SCCA Proton Therapy patient who she met in Seattle Children's Hospital lobby. Erin’s friend had the same tumor type and could relate to many of the fears and uncertainties Erin was feeling.

Additionally, when Erin found herself having a difficult day, her care team at the Center was quick to make her laugh. “Cliff, Britney, and Michelle were the best,” shared Erin. “Even on really tough mornings when I would tear up in the lobby Cliff would come out, make me laugh, and remind me that we were one step closer to completing treatment.”

After 33 proton therapy treatments, Erin completed her course at the Center just in time to return back to her senior year in high school this fall.  While she is still working to regain her energy levels, she is beginning to return back to her normal routine. She is incredibly grateful for the support from her friends and family and hopes to volunteer her time at the Ronald McDonald House to let other teens know that they are not alone.