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sarah donegan
Photo courtesy of Sarah Smiles

Family Of 13-Year-Old Santa Clarita Girl With Brain Cancer Advocates For Cancer Research

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.

sarah donegan 1

Tannaz Santos/Photos by Tannaz

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 donegan

Photo courtesy of Sarah Smiles

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.”

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Tannaz Santos/Photos by Tannaz

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.

Residents can donate to Sarah Donegan’s GoFundMe page here, and get details on her upcoming fundraising event at the Crossroads Community Church on Feb. 22 here.

The Donegan family is also selling “Stronger Together” shirts, which can be purchased here.

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Family Of 13-Year-Old Santa Clarita Girl With Brain Cancer Advocates For Cancer Research

3 comments

  1. Dr Burzynski in Houston Texas has a non toxic treatment that may be able to penetrate the blood brain barrier. It’s worth looking into, he has had much success with his treatment called anti neoplastons

    • That Dr in Houston is a quack. My 15 year old son passes away from giloblastoma as well. Our Drs in Dallas have been trying to shut him down. He does not take any insurance and monthy charges are like 10 k just for being a patient. He can not help. He just takes your money and gives you false hope. I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. We donated my sons tumors to help find a cure. It is never easy and we miss him every day.

  2. I make a cannabis infused coconut oil potion for treating GM. It has helped others significantly. I want to furnish it for this girl. How do I make this happen? I live in SCV. Please contact me. I have a patient that I have been treating for over a year.

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About Jade Aubuchon

A Santa Clarita native, Jade has spent her whole life involved in community outreach. After graduating from Learning Post High in 2015, she went on to College of the Canyons to pursue a double major in English and Marketing. Jade spent several years as a ballroom dance performer for a local studio and has performed at public and private events throughout Santa Clarita.