Just before Christmas, Nkenge and Tanya were somewhere no one ever wants to be with their child: the Emergency Department. Their 2-year-old daughter Kensley was complaining of stomach pain, and they could feel a bulge in their daughter’s abdomen.
After being evaluated in the Emergency Department, Kensley was admitted to Children’s National Hospital, where she had a biopsy that revealed she had childhood rhabdomyosarcoma. This type of pediatric cancer is a sarcoma, which means it forms in soft tissues, such as muscles, connective tissue or bone. Rhabdomyosarcoma can occur anywhere in the body, although it most often begins in active muscles. In Kensley’s case, it was in her reproductive organs.
Children with rhabdomyosarcoma commonly do not exhibit symptoms until a tumor becomes very large, said Amy Hont, M.D., Kensley’s oncologist at Children’s National, who specializes in solid tumors. By the time Kensley was admitted to the hospital, she had a visible abdominal mass and positive disease in her lymph nodes. “Thankfully, there was no evidence that cancer had spread further,” Dr. Hont said.
In January, Kensley started chemotherapy. After several months of treatment, the tumor decreased in size, but not as much as her doctors had expected. “Unfortunately, she didn't have as great of a tumor response to the chemotherapy as we were hoping for,” Dr. Hont said. Her doctors decided that the best course of action would be surgery. Kensley underwent a total abdominal hysterectomy, which involved removing the tumor along with her uterus. After the procedure, Kensley started radiation therapy while still going through chemotherapy.
Through it all, Kensley’s multidisciplinary team of specialists, including oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiologists and general surgeons have collaborated to provide her with the best possible treatment and care. Her care team continues to meet periodically to discuss her case. In addition, Kensley received support and had access to physical therapists, social workers and art therapists. Because of the collaborative nature between the different care teams at the hospital, it has been easy for Kensley to make appointments with the physicians she needs to see, whether they are surgeons, gynecologists or radiation oncologists. “Her team is amazing and she is treated as a star,” Nkenge said. “Children’s National Hospital has been a breath of fresh air.”
Kensley, her two mothers and her older brother, DJ, live in Maryland, which is a bit far from Children’s National in D.C. The hospital’s social work team has worked closely with the family to provide them with the travel resources they need.
‘Always a Trooper’
Kensley recently had a second surgery to remove a new abdominal mass, as well as the upper portion of her vagina. She will undergo more radiation and chemotherapy in the coming weeks.
“She's always been a trooper through this whole thing,” Dr. Hont said. Thankfully her disease remains localized and according to the hospital’s genetics team, there have been no genetic findings that would put her at higher risk of relapse or other cancers, she added.
The past year has been difficult for Kensley’s family. “It’s a long journey…we feel that Children’s National has made it as smooth as it could be,” Nkenge said.
Kensley continues her brave battle against cancer. “She’s doing amazing, she’s a strong little girl. She has not shown fear,” Nkenge said of her daughter. Even the treatments haven’t slowed their daughter down. “She’s a fighter,” she said.