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At an Easter egg hunt last year, Taylor Fairman scooped up her then 2-year-old daughter, Evie, and felt a lump on her side. Even though Evie wasn’t feverish or acting sick, Fairman knew something was wrong. She took Evie to the emergency room and an ultrasound revealed the toddler had a tumor the size of two softballs.
“The only reason I could feel it is because it got so big,” Fairman told TODAY. “She was diagnosed with stage 4 hepatoblastoma.”
Hepatoblastoma is a type of rare liver cancer, diagnosed in less than one in a million children, and affects children from infancy to age 3, according to St. Jude's Research Hospital. Symptoms can include a swollen abdomen, pain in the abdomen, back pain, itchy skin, yellow eyes or skin, pale skin and lips, loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting or fever.
“We could have not found it for a few more months. Who knows what would have happened,” Fairman, 27, of Cedar Falls, Iowa, said.
Doctors suspect that Evie was born with the tumor, which grew slowly. By the time Fairman found it, the tumor was so large doctors couldn’t remove it. So, Evie began chemotherapy. Doctors hoped the treatment would shrink it, then allowing them to take out the tumor and part of the liver, what’s known as a resection, to cure Evie of cancer.
After four rounds of chemo, the tumor shrank and doctors successfully performed a liver resection but could not fix her portal vein, which the tumor had crushed. But doctors remained hopeful and after two more rounds of chemotherapy, Evie was cancer-free in October 2016.
Fairman felt relieved that her strong-willed, vibrant daughter could enjoy life as a toddler.
“She was back to gymnastics and she was getting used to normal life,” Fairman said.
Then in February her blood work showed that the cancer had returned but the doctors couldn’t locate the cancer.
“It was so frustrating because you had to wait,” she said.
Finally, doctors discovered a new tumor on Evie's liver in May. Because she already underwent a liver resection, she couldn’t have another one. She needed a transplant. Doctors put her on a waiting list for a liver and the family remained optimistic, even though they knew it could take years to receive a donor organ.
“You just hope and pray that you get the call,” Fairman said.
After five weeks, Evie had jaundiced skin. She went to a hospital in Omaha, where doctors discovered the 3-year-old’s bile ducts weren’t working. The tumor, which grew so rapidly since May, damaged the ducts and spread to her small bowel. Evie didn’t just need a new liver — she also needed a small bowel and pancreas. While new organs would cure Evie’s cancer, it was so aggressive doctors feared they couldn’t wait.
“She had to be taken off the transplant list because she needed to start chemo right away,” Fairman said. “It was hard this time because she (had) gotten back to normal life.”
They returned to Des Moines for chemotherapy. As the pharmacy was preparing Evie’s treatment, Fairman received a call — a liver, small bowel and pancreas were available. But they had to return to Omaha immediately.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I was almost in a state of shock and happiness because we didn’t think it was going to happen.”
On July 4, Evie underwent an eight-hour surgery where doctors successfully transplanted the organs. She is still in the intensive care unit, but doctors think she’ll leave it soon. After she recovers, Evie will have a few more rounds of chemotherapy, but her outlook seems positive.
Fairman feels incredibly grateful that a family chose organ donation.
“For her to have these organs, some other parents had to lose a loved one and it is because of their compassion that Evie is able to get this chance,” she said. “It’s something to admire … Someone that has compassion and kindness to truly help others when they are going through a loss.”
People hoping to help Evie can donate here.