This is the story of Kiara, in the words of her mom Keren.
October 2, 2014 at 12:36 am…the exact moment I received the news that would change the course of our life…”they found a mass on her brain.” Our little princess Kiara, just a month from turning 6 years old…had a brain tumor. This is the exact moment we began depending on people: friends, family, and strangers to get us through what would be some of the most difficult moments of our life. We are the “Grindrod 5” Jeremiah, Keren, Jameson, Kiara (Warrior Princess Kiara) and Kylie, we live in sunny Scottsdale, AZ. Our story isn’t one of sorrow, or tragedy. Instead it is a story with much difficulty and trial, but even more blessings and miracles.
That “mass” turned out to be cancer, and we soon found out that cancer had spread aggressively to her spine; Metastatic Medullablastoma officially to the medical community; heartbreaking, confusing, and consuming to our family. A nine hour brain surgery in Phoenix removed the tumor. It also left our Princess with virtually no motor skills, unable to talk, walk, swallow, move her arms, turn her head, or even blink on cue. Although things looked bleak and we were given heartbreaking odds, FAITH and the foundation of our family kept us believing. As we sought treatment options we were accepted into a clinical trial at St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN. We arrived the Sunday before Thanksgiving and Kiara began 6 weeks of high dose radiation. As we approached the end of radiation Keren and I began seeking out rehab facilities for Kiara. We had a 6 week break before the start of a 7 month cycle of chemotherapy. Kiara was still not walking, talking, couldn’t control her arms, was on a feeding tube, but she was smiling and laughing! We were connected, and accepted into an intense inpatient rehab at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, MD. This is where our first encounter with our friends at the Ronald McDonald House began. Early on, we committed that through it all The Grindrod 5 would stick together, no splitting up. For 6 weeks- Jameson, Kylie, and I had a place to stay- a place that was “home”. We spent every possible second at KKI visiting Kiara and Keren, but Miss Ashley (or Ash-uh-lee as Kylie pronounces it) and Kylie quickly became besties. During this time Kiara started talking again and began controlling her arms and head. We were overjoyed! Kiara had another minor brain surgery (is there such thing as minor brain surgery?) and we headed back to Memphis for Kiara to begin the grueling 7 months of chemo that awaited us. I honestly thought we had said our goodbyes and would be back to Baltimore someday as tourists, but we have learned that we cannot predict what is ahead.
After 7 months of intense chemo- we celebrated Warrior Princess Kiara’s 7th birthday with the news that she had kicked cancer’s butt! While the joy of this news had us riding high- there was still much rehab to be done. During the 7 months Kiara had progressed mightily- she could walk with a walker, was off her feeding tube and eating most of her favorite foods. Her speech was clear, and she was coloring and even writing her name again. While we desperately wanted to go home, we decided to head back to KKI in Baltimore for more rehab. We were blessed to get back into the RMH, Kylie was ecstatic to see her bestie Ash-uh-lee again. We planned on a month or two; hoping to be home by Thanksgiving. We finally left on January 31 after staying almost 5 months. During this time we encountered some of the best people we have had the honor of meeting in our lives. We have a motto in our family “Love looks like something”; meaning that love shows up in action not just words. Love is the only word I can give that describes how we were treated during out time at the RMH. There are too many stories to share of people going above and beyond for us. We were strangers and you loved us with your time, talents and finances. From craft time, pet therapy, wonderful meals, and a Seahawks vs. Ravens game…too many people to list and thank. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years – we were treated as family, and made memories to last a lifetime.
To the volunteers that give of the most valuable commodity- time, we thank you. To those of you who give financially, thank you. You have never met my family, but you allowed us to stay together during the most difficult of battles. Lastly, to the staff of RMH Baltimore: In life, we should all do “work that matters”, thank you for daily dedicating yourselves to work that makes a difference in people’s lives. Your kindness, friendship, and love are imprinted on our hearts for eternity. While we are overjoyed at being home in sunny Arizona, we miss our friends and look forward to seeing your faces again.
As I write this, Kiara is rehabbing like a champion and she continues to get stronger. We believe she will be again walking soon. She starts horse therapy in the fall, and her 1 year scans are on her 8th Birthday. We believe we will be celebrating the monumental news of 1 year cancer free! Be blessed friends, we love and pray for all of you!
Lastly, thank you to the “doers”, the people we have met during the past two years that serve, love, give, all without knowing or expecting anything in return.