A Parent’s Worst Nightmare: A Cancer Diagnosis for Your Child

4 min read  |  September 05, 2023  | 
Disponible en Español |

Boriana and Ty Treadwell’s 15-year-old daughter, Sophia, never complained about pain without reason. When she told them her arm hurt, they knew something was wrong. They still remember that moment in May 2019 when they learned her arm pain was caused by leukemia – a diagnosis that no parent expects their child to receive. “I was completely numb,” says Ty.

“It felt like the floor I was standing on opened up, and I fell through it. I could not believe this was my reality and not a nightmare.”  

– Boriana Treadwell

They knew they would be facing difficult decisions and uncertainty, including the possibility of losing their only child. 

Finding reassurance in expert care

The first step was to meet with Sophia’s oncologist, Julio C. Barredo, M.D., Director of children’s cancer programs at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System. They had an opportunity to ask questions and discuss her treatment plan. He gave them the hope they needed.

“Statistically, most pediatric cancer patients have a higher chance of cure than failure,” says Dr. Barredo. “Most will go on to lead productive lives as adults and have their own families.”

They also met with other members of the multidisciplinary team of experts who would be helping Sophia. 

“We knew the team was performing miracles on a daily basis and were confident in their abilities.”

– Ty Treadwell

The family decided that Sophia would begin treatment at Sylvester’s Alex’s Place and Holtz Children’s Hospital at the UM/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. 

“We were ready to start fighting to beat the cancer,” says Ty.

Building a village to support Sophia’s journey

The family began making changes to adjust to their “new normal.” Boriana and Ty rearranged their work schedules so one of them could be by her side 24/7 to comfort her.

The Treadwell family vacations in Disney World.

“We thought the environment would be scary, but it was actually a place of hope and faith that was very welcoming,” says Boriana. “Everyone we came in contact with during this terrible journey was knowledgeable, professional, and compassionate. They became like family and made the experience bearable.”

Boriana and Ty quickly realized they could not do it alone. Friends and family offered to provide meals and other services. They joined an online support group to get advice from other parents. They also worked closely with the support teams in the hospital and at Alex’s Place. 

“We were lucky that so many people offered assistance,” says Boriana, who resisted help initially. “It gave us extra time to take care of ourselves, as well as Sophia.”

Keeping busy in a nurturing environment

While Sophia was in treatment, they searched for ways to keep busy to avoid focusing on what was really happening. At Alex’s Place, designed to empower young patients and support their families, the chemotherapy bay was equipped with a flat-screen monitor to watch videos or use as a computer. They also had access to a common area with interactive games and activities, an onsite classroom to keep up with schoolwork, and a tranquility garden for peaceful reflection and outdoor enjoyment.

Sophia and Boriana planned a girls’ trip to Europe since they had to cancel the one that was scheduled. They studied Spanish, read books, and watched television. They explored Sophia’s creative side with the art therapist and worked with the music therapist to compose songs for a violin concert she performed for the other sick children. 

Paying hope forward

Today, Sophia is cancer-free and thriving as a sophomore in college. The Treadwells have resumed their normal lives and are sharing their knowledge with other parents who are starting survivor journeys with a recent diagnosis for their child. 

Unfortunately, the possibility of a relapse is always on their minds.

“Cancer is a terrible disease, but many cancers are now treatable, and cancer survivors often live long and prosperous lives,” says Boriana. “We are forever grateful to Sylvester for pushing the bar on cancer research and treatment and giving us the support and hope we needed to get through this difficult time.”

Debby Teich is a contributing writer for Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Tags: cancer care in Miami

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