4 years old- that’s how old Kaitlyn Marie Garcia was when her family found out she had DIPG. She was a happy, sassy, funny girl who had started to run into walls and have nightmares, leading to her family taking her to the hospital in concern. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong at first but eventually, they found cancer. Kaitlyn was diagnosed with a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, which is a brainstem tumor in the pons of the brain that is not just a mass tumor, but instead is similar to salt and pepper in that it is spread all over. At the time of diagnosis, Ms. Garcia did not fully understand what was going on. She did not have a hospital support system to lean on. The doctors spoke in medical jargon that left her confused and unsure of the situation and there were no social workers offering to help her explain what was going on to her oldest daughter, Hayley, who was only 4 years older than Kaitlyn at the time. The doctors at Kaiser began a standard treatment of radiation and chemotherapy that the other hospitals agreed was the main process they had at the time for this kind of cancer. At first, Kaitlyn hated everything that was going on. She was scared and hated being poked. The chemotherapy that Kaitlyn was treated with came in a pill that was nearly impossible to get her to take so they had to hide it in pudding and ice cream for her. However, Kaitlyn was strong and brave and eventually came to be the one teaching her mother lessons about life and strength. She would tell her mom that she was going to be brave today and that Ms. Garcia was going to be brave with her. For a four-year-old little girl, she did the best that she could. Kaitlyn had only been diagnosed for 6 months when she passed away.
DIPG has no cure, so the best thing you can do, according to Ms. Garcia, is to try to get as much support as you can, especially from your family and friends, and to enjoy every single moment that you have with your loved one. While Ms. Garcia doesn’t want to remember Kaitlyn sick, those 6 months and the memories she made with Kaitlyn during those times are what she remembers to this day. During that period, she got to spend time with Kaitlyn without the distractions of work and daily issues and instead got to truly soak up every moment with her. The memories with Kaitlyn are endless, from going to Disneyland and riding her favorite pirates ride over and over again, to getting on the phone line when her sister was talking to her friends, to insisting on doing everything together as a family. Kaitlyn’s memory will never be forgotten and the impact that she made on those that loved her will always remain.
Unfortunately, not much has changed for the treatment of children like Kaitlyn who are diagnosed with DIPG. It has been 9 years since Kaitlyn’s DIPG journey and radiation and chemotherapy remain the primary treatment for DIPG with low survival rates. Surgery is impossible due to the location of the brainstem, limiting treatment options. New research and clinical trials are necessary for discovering better and more effective ways to treat DIPG patients. This is why raising awareness for DIPG and helping fund research is so important. Children like Kaitlyn deserve to live out their lives and achieve their dreams and we must do everything we can to help them.