Story by: Joe Hall on October 17, 2023
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Surrounded by nurses and staff, Alaina Kenney proudly rang the “end of treatment bell” at Norton Children’s Hospital. The celebration in early August marked the end of the 13-year-old’s chemotherapy treatments, nearly four years after being diagnosed neuroblastoma, a type of cancer found most often in kids and infants.
One day in September 2019, as she was getting ready for school, Alaina passed out in the hallway of her grandparents’ home. EMTs transported her to Norton Children’s Hospital, where a mass in her abdomen was found to be pressing on her kidney. The compression spiked her blood pressure, resulting in a seizure.
“There had been no signs,” said Sherry Kenney, Alaina’s mom. “It hit us all like a ton of bricks. We had a perfect life. This is just not something you see coming.”
The Kenney family was quickly introduced to Mustafa Barbour, M.D., a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.
“I met Alaina in the emergency department when she came in,” Dr. Barbour said. “She was very sick at the time, and she even had a seizure while we were seeing her.”
According to Dr. Barbour, tests and scans eventually confirmed his initial suspicions based on Alaina’s symptoms. She had neuroblastoma, a cancer that starts in early forms of nerve cells. Alaina’s had developed into an abdominal tumor that had spread to bone.
“Her neuroblastoma is what we call high-risk neuroblastoma, which means it takes a lot of work for us to be able to control it,” Dr. Barbour said.
The Norton Children’s Cancer Institute team determined the best game plan for Alaina’s treatment was to shrink the tumor with chemotherapy before performing surgery. Alaina’s treatment consisted of six cycles of traditional chemotherapy. After the fifth round, her tumor had shrunk enough for surgeons to remove it.
“After finishing six rounds of chemo, we still detected some neuroblastoma cells in her bone marrow and needed 2 cycles of immunotherapy before she was ready for the next phase of treatment” Dr. Barbour said.
Alaina eventually had a bone marrow transplant and stem cell therapy to get rid of the disease.
Now that she’s officially cancer-free, Alaina is back to doing what she loves.
“I do volleyball, cheer, softball and archery,” she said. “I do two softball teams a year. I do fall ball and then I do a softball team in the spring.”
As she looks toward her future, Alaina expressed gratitude to her team at Norton Children’s.
“Thank you so much, because you gave me the life that I have,” she said. “Without it, I wouldn’t be out here playing sports or interacting with my friends. I probably wouldn’t have a life without them.”