The sweetest kind of tough
Emery Holt is a spunky first grader. She loves to swim, do ballet, play with her two younger brothers, Houston and Taplin, and feed the cows on her family's ranch. It is hard to fathom she is undergoing treatment for cancer when watching her energy and enjoyment of life.
In the fall of her kindergarten year, shortly before Thanksgiving, Emery fell out of her chair at school. After the incident, she frequently mentioned her back hurting and even said the pain caused her to wake during the night. Her parents, Randy and Tallyn, became concerned.
"Emery was atypical," her mom, Tallyn, says. "She wasn't 'sick.' The first instance we knew of something wrong was after she fell and the back pain started. We took her to Shannon Urgent Care and they ordered lab work."
Dr. Stephen Sawyer, Shannon Pediatrician, called the Holts, told them the lab values were abnormal and requested to see Emery in the office.
"She was complaining about back pain which is abnormal for children her age," Dr. Sawyer says. "She couldn't bend over and was walking very stiffly. We were immediately concerned about her blood counts after reviewing her labs and were thinking it might be blood cancer due to the values."
The Holts waited while Emery received an MRI of her back and Dr. Sawyer shared his concerns with the family.
"It's always difficult to deliver tough news to patients, but since this was the first time I had seen Emery, it was even more difficult," he says.
The decision was made to send Emery to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth for further evaluation by pediatric specialists, including an oncologist.
"They weren't 100 percent sure what was going on when we arrived at Cook's," Tallyn recalls. "We were hoping it wasn't cancer."
On December 1, the Holts received a diagnosis for Emery's condition— B pre-cursor acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL). ALL is the most common form of childhood cancer. She began treatment to battle the cancer the next day.
"Fortunately, this type of cancer has the highest success for cure rate and is highly treatable," Dr. Sawyer says. "The miracle was the timing in which we found her disease. Emery was already showing signs of leukemia in her blood when she arrived at Cook Children's two days after seeing me."
Randy and Tallyn juggled the responsibility of taking care of their sick child in Fort Worth and their other two children who were back at home.
"Her treatment plan was intense, but she really handled it well," they say. "After her initial induction treatment, her status changed to high risk and she underwent a second induction. Then she had great progress from that point forward. Dr. Sawyer was very in-depth. He worked to stay in touch with us while we were at Cook Children's and the communication between him and the doctors there was wonderful."
After a month in Fort Worth, the Holts were able to bring Emery home on New Year's Eve 2016. In February 2017, right before Emery's sixth birthday, they received the wonderful news she was in remission. Fortunately, she is receiving the remainder of her treatment at the Pediatric Outpatient Chemotherapy Clinic at the Shannon Women's & Children's Hospital.
"It was so nice being home around everyone who cared for and prayed for her. Shannon has been like a second home for us," Tallyn says. Emery has had two week-long stays on the Pediatrics Unit and it's nice to know the facility, nurses and doctors."
Although ALL is highly treatable, the cancer has lengthy treatment regimen to ensure the cancer does not relapse. Emery is currently in the year-long maintenance phase which includes infusion treatment and medications. She and her family are looking forward to her completing treatment in March 2019. They are thankful for the support they have received from their community and Children's Miracle Network.
"CMN has helped us stay close to home for Emery's treatments," Tallyn says. "It threw us off to be gone from home, especially with two younger children. We spent last spring break in the hospital at Shannon. It would have been even tougher to be in Fort Worth for that stay. There were a few times I had to bring Houston and Taplin with me when Emery was receiving an infusion. It was nice for them to be able to have a space to play. We are thankful to stay here and stay together."
"We didn't realize how many children were affected by this disease," Randy adds. "We help support CMN because it makes easier for other families going through times like this."
The Holts are looking forward to their daughter's childhood being her only focus. They are in awe of the strength and resilience Emery has showed throughout this time.
"We've learned your children feed off of you and your emotions," Tallyn says. "As long as we're strong and positive, Emery is strong and positive. And, we feed off of her and her resilience. She's had plenty of long days with infusions and she bounces back and continues being a kid again. She is our miracle because she had a life-threatening illness and she beat it."