Toddler fights cancer while her parents fight COVID on the front lines

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) – While on the front lines helping people battling COVID-19 in other parts of the country, little did they know that their 3-year-old was at home in Mobile fighting her own battle. The respiratory therapists discovered that their daughter had bone cancer.

Cecilia Tran never expected to celebrate her daughter’s fourth birthday in the hospital. Then, just six days before the party, little Scarlett Castanares and her parents are forced to face the unthinkable.

Diagnosis – osteosarcoma. And chemotherapy doesn’t beat this cancer. Doctors explain to amputate Scarlett’s right leg.

“It’s more common in teens and kids who are growing rapidly, and it’s called a sports tumor,” says Dr. Hamayun Imran, MD, USA Health Children’s and Women’s Hospital.

Such tumors usually present as pain and swelling. The affected area usually feels warm for days.

Just months before, no symptoms for the active, athletic 3-year-old, who was bouncing around her living room, swimming, just a kid.

“She likes dancing, karate and swimming.”
‘”Karate!” Yes, karate right? How much do you like karate? So much,” Tran and Scarlett said.

But Scarlett’s ability to do the things she loved “so much” changed in an instant.

“She was limping and when we asked her about it she said she had her foot stuck in the couch and we thought nothing of it at first and then about a week went by and it didn’t get any better. So we took her to the pediatrician and from there it kind of catapulted into doctor visits and tests and things to figure out what was going on,” Tran said.

The symptoms didn’t start to surface until mid-February, but they quickly increased. Scarlett quickly went from a walker to a wheelchair. At the time, Scarlett was staying with relatives in Mobile. Her mother, who works as a traveling respiratory therapist in Texas. Her father, who also helps COVID patients, in Hawaii.

“It’s hard because with the pandemic that’s been going on for the past year or so, we haven’t really been able to be together as a family just because of the risk and everything that comes with our job,” Tran said.

With Scarlett’s cancer diagnosis, Cecilia and her husband dropped everything, flew home, and took Scarlett to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“We packed up the car and drove here. It was early March and we’ve been here ever since,” Tran said.

USA Health experts also treat osteosarcoma. dr. Hamayun Imran describes it as quite common, but not in children of Scarlett’s age. With aggressive treatment, Dr. Imran: “The prognosis for localized osteosarcoma, the one that has not spread to the lungs or to multiple bones, is really very good. Almost 2/3, a little more, can hope for a long-term healing.”

A long-lasting recovery is exactly what Scarlett and her family are hoping for. For now it’s more chemotherapy and an indefinite stay in St. Jude. Their hope is that her life will be very different by Scarlett’s 5th birthday.

A Go Fund Me set up to help Scarlett’s family, now that her parents are out of work and the bills don’t hold up. You can find it here:

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