By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Silly, smiley, and smart, Delano Elementary School first-grader Genevieve Chapman isn’t worried about the rare kidney cancer she was diagnosed with the end of July.
Instead, she’s been busy thinking about the trip to Disney World she’ll go on in February, granted to her family though Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Genevieve’s parents, Don and Michelle Chapman of Delano, discovered Make-A-Wish through Katie Ahlstrom, a local wish granter.
“We thought it was only for terminal cases, but it is for any life-threatening childhood disease,” Michelle said.
As part of the process to determine eligibility, Make-A-Wish volunteers interviewed Genevieve at her house, asking what they could do to make her happy.
“We were on pins and needles waiting to hear,” Don laughed, explaining that when he and Michelle had asked Genevieve that question earlier, her answers were “everything from Legos to winter clothing.”
“At first, she toyed with the idea of getting a puppy. Luckily, they don’t grant animals,” Michelle added. (Plus, Genevieve already has a tortoise named Tortellini, and a fish named Diamond.)
The family was relieved when Genevieve picked Disney World, a place they haven’t visited since Genevieve’s 16-year-old sister, Hannah, was 4.
At the end of November, Make-A-Wish volunteers surprised Genevieve at school with the news that her wish had been granted, and the class celebrated with cupcakes and juice.
“The school has been so supportive,” Michelle said.
A curable cancer
Until this summer, cancer wasn’t a topic the Chapman family pondered regularly.
Michelle’s first inkling that something was amiss happened after Genevieve’s bath one evening.
“I had been rubbing lotion on her, and I felt a lump in her tummy. It was solid, about a half-dollar size,” Michelle recalled.
Thinking it might be a hernia, she took Genevieve to a pediatrician. Since they weren’t able to tell what it was, Genevieve was sent to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis for testing.
Doctors there initially thought it could be a twisted ovary, but wanted to check it out with a special camera.
“Forty-five minutes later, we found out it was a softball-sized tumor,” Michelle said.
Since the tumor had burst, it was labeled stage 3.
Genevieve had removal surgery right away, and although biopsy results didn’t arrive until a few days later, her parents were told it was almost certainly a type of kidney cancer called Wilms’ tumor (also known as nephroblastoma).
Fortunately, this type which is diagnosed in about 400 children in the US each year is highly curable.
“If your kid is going to get cancer, this is the one to have,” Michelle said.
Chemo beats cancer
Genevieve’s treatment included seven days of radiation, then 10 weekly chemo sessions. Now, chemotherapy is only every third week, and she’s also started physical therapy.
Genevieve misses class on Fridays, but she has no trouble keeping up with schoolwork.
“She reads at a second-grade level,” Michelle said, adding that Genevieve loves to read her dad stories before bed.
Although everything is going well, chemotherapy hasn’t been easy.
“Chemo is one evil to kill another,” Michelle said. “A side effect of one of the drugs is numb nerve endings. She started falling down the stairs and tripping, so we had to get braces for her feet.”
Genevieve also lost her hair, but that hasn’t fazed her.
“All she does is smile,” Don said. “I think cancer is harder on the parents than the kids. You feel so helpless.”
Don and Michelle remember staying awake all night after Genevieve’s surgery. When the doctor came into the hospital room, they were both lying down, exhausted, while Genevieve was full of energy, coloring on a white board.
“The doctor was like, ‘Wait a minute. Who’s the patient here?’” Michelle laughed.
If all goes as planned, Genevieve will be done with cancer treatments for good by the time the Chapmans leave for Disney World a break the entire family is eagerly awaiting.
“It will be more celebrating than anything,” Don said.