On Thanksgiving Day in 2018, Adela Salinas remembers her daughter Sarai as an active, energetic 5-year-old, always smiling while enjoying a bounce house and playing with her family.
The next day, everything changed when Sarai woke up with a bad stomachache. She wouldn’t let her mother touch her tummy. By the end of the evening, Sarai spiked a fever and developed a bloated abdomen. “She told me she had a pillow in her belly,” recalled Adela.
The family headed to the emergency room where the doctors ordered surgery, expecting a twisted intestine. During the procedure, which was performed at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, the surgeon found and removed a metastatic stage four tumor near Sarai’s bladder.
It turned out to be a rare, malignant cancer known as embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS). This type of cancer can affect the body’s soft tissue, such as the skeletal muscles and hollow organs like the bladder. Symptoms can include bulging and swelling of the eyes and persistent pain in the affected area.
By the time the doctors at Golisano Children’s Hospital discovered her RMS in surgery, the cancer had already spread through Sarai’s little body. Treatment began immediately. For several months, Sarai suffered through aggressive radiation five days a week followed by chemotherapy. She missed the rest of her kindergarten year and lost all her signature jet-black hair.
Through it all, Sarai continued smiling. She could light up any room with her laugh. Sarai’s positive attitude shone through the sparkly ballet slippers that she wore to chemotherapy with a bright, cheery tutu skirt and big hair bow. Her nails brought a pop of cheer too, often painted bright pink with yellow polka dots.
Over time, Sarai’s bravery paid off and she completed her chemo in October 2019. Happy to end her weekly visits for treatments, she set her sights on completing her first-grade year. Now well into second grade, Sarai’s long locks have started to grow back, and she sticks to regular checkups at the doctor.
“She is stronger than I am,” says her mom, Adela. “I don’t know what we would have done without Golisano Children’s Hospital. We are family here. All the doctors and nurses know Sarai, and they love her. They have done everything and more to help us.”
Cancer is a battle that no child should ever have to face. But for those who don’t have a choice, there’s nowhere better than Golisano Children’s Hospital in Fort Myers for lifesaving pediatric services and oncology. Adjacent to HealthPark Medical Center, it is the only hospital of its kind between Tampa and Miami, and its recovery rates surpass the national average. The doctors, nurses, and support staff at Golisano Children’s Hospital work tirelessly every day to provide all their patients with the comfort, support, and care that they deserve while allowing them to stay close to home in Southwest Florida. That way, families never have to fight alone.
No one knows this better than Dr. Venkat Prasad, the Chief Medical Officer of Physician Services and Population at Lee Health. “Children are so vulnerable, and it is tragic when they suffer from cancer. I want to help make sure no child wants for treatment and care,” Dr. Prasad said. “It is our collective responsibility as a society to do the best we can for all children.”
That is the reason why Dr. Prasad and Sarai will join forces on Wednesday, September 30 at the finale event for Clips for Cancer, an annual fundraiser that benefits Barbara’s Friends – Golisano Children’s Hospital’s cancer fund. Barbara’s Friends exists to help kids with cancer and life-threatening blood disorders whose families may require financial assistance, ensuring that every child can access critical oncology and pediatric services during their stay at Golisano Children’s Hospital. Donations to Barbara’s Friends help cover child-life services, infusion equipment, and the very best in medical care for children with cancer and other blood disorders.
Dr. Prasad will take a stand against childhood cancer by braving the shave and going bald in solidarity with young cancer patients like Sarai. Tune in to watch Sarai take a razor to Dr. Prasad during the virtual event on our Facebook page.