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SWFL family goes to St. Jude for help with infant daughter’s brain cancer

In the beginning, it just seemed like a stomach bug. In reality, it was something much worse.

“Riley had a week of vomiting,” said Kelly Goddard. Riley, her daughter, was almost 10 months old at the time. “Intermittent vomiting, no other symptoms. One evening, she had pulled herself up on our coffee table and she lost consciousness.”

Riley Goddard had Stage 4 brain cancer.

“She had emergency brain surgery that night,” Goddard said.

Hospitals in Southwest Florida said there was nothing they could do.

“When we were told we had one to two years with her, it was actually within hours that we got a phone call from St. Jude that said ‘No, I think I can cure this,'” Goddard said. “So our hearts went from being completely shattered to  ‘OK, now we have hope.'”

The family left Southwest Florida looking for a cure. But experts say even the best care is decades behind.

“Currently, of the hundreds of drugs that are available to treat adults, only 10 are used and authorized to use for children,” said David Frazer, CEO of the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation. “The other problem is that treatments are very toxic, as it is related to 1950s nuclear medicine. I’m talking about chemotherapy and radiation.”

Frazer says this is because pediatric cancer only gets 4% of the federal government’s entire cancer research budget. That’s why groups like his try to find and fund new projects with help from the public.

“There’s always a need to do more trials,” Frazer said. “We have about a dozen new ideas in our toolbox that we’d love to fund and get going. But we need more money to be able to do that.”

“That government funding is coming from our tax dollars, and the more people who speak up and say, ‘Listen, these kids deserve a cure, these kids deserve a future and a chance at life,’ the more likely that something will get done,” Goddard said.

Because now, after three brain surgeries and six months of intense chemotherapy, the Goddards are home.

“What once was a very large open space in her right frontal lobe from where the tumor had been removed—it was a big hole in my child’s brain—has now filled in with healthy brain tissue,” Goddard said. “It was a really nice surprise; we came home to a huge sign in the yard that said ‘Way to go, Riley.’ It was very awesome.”

This September, for the first time ever, the White House was lit up gold in honor of Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month. Kelly Goddard says she wants the gold ribbon to become as recognizable as the pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness.

You can follow Riley’s journey on Facebook.

Reporter:Veronica Marshall
Writer:Joey Pellegrino
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