When New Mexico mom Wanda first noticed her daughter Cassie’s heart beating rapidly in December 2020, she was alarmed. The scene was commonplace – they were simply snuggling on the couch while watching a movie – but seven-year-old Cassie’s heart was thundering. While Cassie insisted she felt fine, her attentive mother could not help but flash back to the occasional seizures her daughter had endured over the previous two years. She took Cassie to the emergency room just to be safe.
Her intuition proved to be spot-on. The doctors’ examination revealed a mass near Cassie’s kidneys as the probable cause of her surging heart rate, and Wanda’s stomach dropped: “‘Mass? What mass?’”
Cassie had never complained about pain or discomfort and so it was disorienting that she was suddenly being admitted. The close knit mother-daughter duo didn’t know it at the time, but they wouldn’t leave the hospital for a month.
“Everything happened so fast,” Wanda says, looking back. “They were doing all kinds of tests, watching her, measuring everything. There were machines all around her and, because of COVID, it was just me and her. I was trying to not cry and be scared in front of her but not knowing what was going on was awful.”
Eventually, the medical team confirmed Wanda’s greatest fear: Cassie had neuroblastoma, a type of pediatric cancer. In addition to the surgical removal of the mass, she would require stem cell collection and a bone marrow transplant – all specialty procedures that could only be completed out of state at Children’s Hospital in Colorado, hundreds of miles from home. It was there they first learned about Brent’s Place. Cassie’s medical team was confident that the organization’s close proximity to life-saving treatment facilities and commitment to Safe-Clean living spaces made it the only spot suited to support Cassie’s recovery; they readily agreed to refer the family.
Just weeks before Cassie’s bone marrow transplant, she and Wanda moved into a fully furnished apartment at Brent’s Place, just blocks from the hospital. “It was an emotional day,” Wanda remembers. “We didn’t know how long we would be at Brent’s Place. Cassie was sad to leave her puppies, Baby Yoda and Princess Leia, which she had just gotten in February. She had a rough time.”
But as the pair began to prepare for Cassie’s bone marrow transplant in their new home away from home, they discovered there was a warm and supportive community to lean on at Brent’s Place. “Everyone was so kind,” Wanda says, “and made us feel at home.” Cassie’s family nickname “Sassy Cassie” caught on in no time with staff members, who were immediately charmed by her humor and collection of colorful wigs.
When transplant day arrived in May, Cassie came through the procedure with flying colors. As the weeks passed, however, she faced multiple complications, including a serious line infection. In July, Cassie underwent her second transplant. Luck was with her this time: it was a success! Less than a month later, Cassie was discharged and returned to rest and heal at Brent’s Place. Her mom, who had continued on as a resident while Cassie was inpatient, was, as ever, constantly by her side.
Throughout the recovery process, Cassie became a familiar face in the halls and courtyard of Brent’s Place. She made friends with other young residents and took part in the many activities and crafts offered. “She really enjoyed painting water bottles and adding to the chalk art gallery,” Wanda says. Cassie even celebrated her eight birthday at Brent’s Place, topped off by a Baby Yoda birthday cake in honor of her puppy. During this time, Wanda and Cassie also started a scrapbook of Cassie’s cancer journey, which highlighted the fun experiences she had at Brent’s Place. “That way, she can show her family when she gets older,” Wanda adds.
In October 2021, Cassie completed her course of radiation and was given the okay to return home. She was thrilled to be reunited with her dogs and family in New Mexico. Looking back on their six-month stay with Brent’s Place, Wanda is filled with gratitude. “I’ve always thought that people in healthcare are amazing,” she says, “but after experiencing this, I believe it even more. Brent’s Place is amazing and we thank you for everything.”
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