Havre Daily News
Six-month-old Alyssa Smith has an appointment today to determine if she can return home to Montana or if she has to stay at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota for another round of treatment.
“We don't want to move. We want to stay in Montana. Montana is our home,” said Alyssa's mother, Chinook native Tawnia Smith.
Tawnia and Bob Smith thought they were going to be out of the state for a month at the most. That was about five months ago.
Alyssa was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer that most often occurs in the adrenal glands, a month after she was born. The day after a mass was found, Alyssa and her parents were on a plane from their home in Helena to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where they have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House ever since.
“Three months ago, I was a mess. I can talk about it now,” Tawnia said in a telephone interview from the Ronald McDonald House. Alyssa was originally set to go through four rounds of chemotherapy, but has had six rounds of treatment so far. The cancer started in her adrenal gland and then spread to her liver. After the first four rounds of chemotherapy, Alyssa had surgery to remove the tumor.
At one point, Alyssa's length measured 52 centimeters and her waist measured 49 centimeters because of the tumor, Tawnia said.
Although the tumor has been removed, Alyssa is not in remission because she still has cancer cells in her liver. Today's MRI will determine if Alyssa needs more chemotherapy or other medicines.
Neuroblastoma is one of the more common forms of cancer in infants and children. Physicians diagnose about 525 cases in the U.S. each year, according to the Mayo Clinic's Web site.
Tawnia said the medical bills have put a financial strain on the family, even though they have health insurance.
A free-will offering dinner and silent auction will be held on Saturday for the Smith family at the Eagles Club in Chinook at 6 p.m.
The money raised will go to help pay medical costs.
Tawnia said she hopes to someday start a fund to help other families in similar situations.
“Alyssa's story has touched so many people,” Tawnia said. “It can be overwhelming knowing how many people are praying and concerned.”
She said her online journal, www.caringbridge.org/visit/babyalyssa, helps her cope and is therapeutic.
Tawnia said having her husband in Rochester with her is a blessing.
“I don't know how I would do it without him,” she said.
Bob and Tawnia met while she was living in Helena after graduating from Chinook High School and attending Montana State University-Northern for two years. The couple have two daughters. The Smiths' 6-year-old daughter, Taylor, has been staying with Tawnia's mother and stepfather, Mary and Frank DePriest of Chinook.
The family can be contacted at the Ronald McDonald House c/o Alyssa Smith, No. 211, 850 Second St. S.W. Rochester, MN 55902.