The family of a 13-year-old Santa Clarita girl with advanced high-grade Glioblastoma — an aggressive brain cancer — is asking the community to advocate for more pediatric cancer research ahead of International Childhood Cancer Day on Saturday, Feb. 15.
On Jan. 27, 2018, then-11-year-old Sarah Donegan began having a series of seizures at home. She was rushed to the emergency room, and a CT scan revealed a mass in her brain. After experiencing an even stronger seizure, Donegan was airlifted to Kaiser Permanente Fontana, where medical professionals monitored and tested her for a week.
At the time, an assembled team of specialists estimated the mass in Donegan’s brain to be a slow-growing, non-invasive and likely benign tumor, according to her mother, Kathleen Donegan. The medical team decided to completely remove the tumor and send out a biopsy for testing.
What was supposed to be a three-hour surgery took over seven hours.
The biopsy taken of the tumor later revealed it to be a high-grade Astrocytoma, also known as Glioblastoma (GBM), described by Kathleen as “a malignant and fast-growing tumor containing roots which hide and grow quickly.”
GBM can be very difficult to treat. While treatments may slow the progression of the cancer and reduce signs and symptoms, a cure is often not possible, according to Kathleen.
Over a year and a half later, Sarah’s friends and family received heartbreaking news on Oct. 30, 2019.
“Not only has Sarah’s tumor grown, it has quickly and aggressively entered an area of her brain that is considered inoperable,” said her mother in a statement.
Sarah underwent successful surgery on Halloween 2019 to remove as much of the new growth as possible, with further treatment plans to include another round of chemotherapy.
“We are hoping to buy more time with our sweet girl, but the horrible truth is that she may not have longer than a year left with us,” Kathleen said at the time.
A routine weekly visit turned harrowing on Dec. 4, 2019, when nurses were unable to draw blood from Donegan’s chest port, which allows for easier blood transfusions, chemotherapy treatments and blood drawing, amongst other medical uses. It appeared that her port line had developed a clot.
Thankfully, nurses were able to draw blood from Sarah the next day, which showed positive results. Her family returned home, buoyed by the good news.
Unfortunately, such good news would not last, as evidenced by Sarah experiencing an increasing amount of pain, reaching a peak on Jan. 3, 2020.
“At what point do we say enough is enough? There’s that fine line of treatment versus quality of life. Last night Sarah was in a lot of pain, something she has gotten used to, but last night was worse than most nights,” Kathleen said. “Pain management has been a struggle for her, as she doesn’t like the way the pain medications make her feel, so most days she refuses pain meds. Last night her pain was so intense that she was asking for them. There is no set time as to how long the side effects from this new medication might last, … hours, days, months … (The doctors) don’t know. It’s beyond frustrating.”
Sarah is described by her friends and family as being a talented musician with unwavering faith and a bright personality.
On Feb. 1, Sarah, now 13 years old, was rushed to the ER for “horrible” head pain. There, an MRI revealed that the tumor in her brain had grown significantly on the right side, and had now invaded the left side as well.
As of Feb. 3, Sarah remained in the hospital so medical staff could help manage her pain while her family discussed next steps.
“We’re considering radiation to hopefully relieve the pressure and give her a little more time,” Kathleen said. “Our hopes are to bring her home soon, where she’ll be more comfortable and can be with family in what might be her last days.”
While Sarah’s case might be bleak, her family encourages the community to advocate for more pediatric cancer research, as only 4 percent of federal government cancer research funding goes to study pediatric cancer, according to the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation.
The Donegan family is also selling “Stronger Together” shirts, which can be purchased here.Do you have a news tip? Call us at (661) 298-1220, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t miss a thing. Get breaking KHTS Santa Clarita News Alerts delivered right to your inbox. Report a typo or error, email Corrections@hometownstation.com
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