"Your daughter has cancer." Those words are devastating for any parent to hear, but especially so when your daughter is just 9 years old. In June 2006, that was the grim news Stephanie Stevens struggled to absorb just days after her seemingly healthy fourth-grade daughter Sydney complained of a painful side-ache.
I had complete confidence in the doctors. The Sutter Health team was great.
After running numerous tests on Sydney, her doctors found a softball-sized cancerous tumor on her kidney. Further testing revealed that the cancer was "stage 4" and had spread to her lungs and into the main vein in her body, just an inch from her heart. Sydney was immediately admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit of Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento—and an aggressive battle to beat the disease began.
Before it was over, Sydney would face three surgeries and multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. "Ask anyone — it's amazing. Never once did Sydney complain. Never once did she make it more difficult or cry. She was such a champ," Stephanie Stevens says.
No fourth grader should have to face losing her hair, but Sydney took it in stride. "I lost all of it," Sydney says. "So much was coming out that we decided to shave my head. So my grandpa and dad shaved their heads too."
All through her treatment, the comforting presence of golden labradors Hazel and Millie — Sutter Health's therapy dogs — were a bright spot for Sydney, who says, "I remember a lot of bad things, but I remember good things too, like visiting with Millie at the hospital. Millie helped me learn to walk again after surgery. They even let me paint her toenails."
Stephanie Stevens says, "I had complete confidence in the doctors. The Sutter Health team was great with everyone in our family. Their support made a terrible situation much more bearable." She adds, "If I could say one thing to the people who cared for my daughter, it would be 'thank you' — not just for doing your job, but for truly caring about my daughter and giving her the best care as lovingly as if she were your own child."
Sacramento cancer specialist YiSheng Lee, M.D., diagnosed Sydney and guided her treatment. He says, "Sydney was a brave girl throughout her diagnosis and treatment. Her wisdom and humor often delighted and surprised us. Her parents were also extremely supportive, and the teamwork between her providers and her family was seamless."
Today Sydney is happily enjoying gymnastics, soccer and art classes. "The doctors and nurses at Sutter saved my life so I can run around and play like a regular kid," Sydney says.