Emma’s Story

August 17, 2017

By John Parli, Emma’s dad

It all began with a tummy ache. Worried that it may be appendicitis, Danielle (Emma’s mom) took Emma, 6, to a walk-in clinic. She was very lethargic, vomiting and had no interest in eating. This continued for a couple more days. The doctor believed it was a stomach bug and to watch Emma closely for dehydration.

Later that week Emma seemed to be rallying. She was no longer throwing up and her appetite was coming back slowly yet she was still very tired. That weekend during a trip to see family it began all over again – nausea and vomiting.  I recall lying in bed with her and the poor thing just wanted me to take her to the hotel swimming pool. She was so bummed.

Monday, May 15th, about one week after it started, we went back to the doctor but nothing was found. The doctor said it might be a possible gag or acid reflux that was causing the continued vomiting and recommended Emma start taking an antacid. This actually seemed to work a bit as Emma’s appetite came back and the vomiting seemed to be less frequent. A few days after the visit to the doctor, Emma sort of appeared bloated in her belly. The doctor said that can happen after long bouts of stomach trouble. The next day it wasn’t any better and so I made another appointment at the pediatrician. We needed answers.

Blood tests and x-rays were run. We got a call just before the start of her little brother Yale’s birthday party. Her liver enzymes were off and there was fluid on her right lung. We left Yale’s party and raced to the ER at Rush Copley which after some tests of their own agreed with the pediatrician and transferred us to Lurie’s Children’s.

When we first arrived to the ER at Lurie Children’s, a few different specialists were on hand since they weren’t quite sure what was going on inside Emma. They initially concluded Emma was having liver failure. However, after several more scans one of the ER doctors informed us that there was a tumor on Emma’s left kidney, cutting off blood flow to her liver.

Emma was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a type of cancer beginning in the kidneys and the most common kidney cancer found in children. We’ve been at Lurie Children’s since May 20.

Emma’s been through a lot but she’s fighting hard. She had fluid drained from her lung and more recently went through a very invasive surgery to remove her tumors as well as open heart surgery to remove a blood clot that developed. She spent time recovering in the Cardiac Care Unit and is now back on the Oncology Unit.

I now understand exactly what “a roller coaster ride” means. I mean, anyone can envision that term but this I feel has been like the newest most death defying ride of all.

Emma started chemotherapy and soon will start radiation. She’s uncomfortable and still in pain and doesn’t want to do much but she is fighting the cancer with determination. I would give anything to switch places with her. I miss my sassy, little lady so much. I miss her fun outfits. I miss her just swinging alone out back and waving to me in the kitchen window. I miss that toothless smile and that giggle when I’d tickle her.


The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Lurie Children’s

The Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Lurie Children’s treats more children with cancer and blood disorders than any other hospital in Illinois. Although cancer is rare in children, we treat 220 new patients each year for a wide range of childhood cancers.