Deer Park pre-schooler Hayden receives Make-A-Wish trip

Christie Netherton

Emma Hayden, right, stands with Make a Wish representative Cynthia Schadler as she is presented with Make a Wish gifts. Hayden was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma a year and a half ago.

Make-A-Wish Foundation granted a trip to Disney World to 3-year-old Emma Hayden at Owensboro Christian Church on Thursday night.

Emma is currently in her second year of preschool at Deer Park Elementary in Owensboro. She was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in May 2018.

The condition, according to St. Jude's Research Hospital, is a rare cancer that affects mostly children. Neuroblastoma tumors typically begin in adrenal glands, the chest, spine or abdomen and can spread to other parts of the body.

The condition accounts for 50 percent of cancers in infants and is usually diagnosed before the age of 5. It can be difficult to diagnose at times, according to Emma's mother, Melody Hayden.

Since Emma was born prematurely, Melody Hayden said she was kept under watchful eyes, which helped in making a quick diagnosis of the condition.

"Typically it occurs in babies, and if it's diagnosed after 18 months of age, it's a little more difficult to treat because it's further progressed," Melody Hayden said. "She was diagnosed at 25 months, but it was found accidentally so it's more of a promising outcome."

After the diagnosis was made, Emma went into surgery the next day to determine how far the cancer had progressed.

Doctors found that her tumor was localized, according to Melody Hayden, meaning the cancer had not spread. That gave doctors a better chance to remove the tumor surgically rather than have Emma undergo chemotherapy, which could potentially have had further negative effects on the body, Melody Hayden said.

"The miraculous thing is he was able to scrape the cancer off that nerve and Emma was able to walk," Melody Hayden said. "If he'd cut the nerve to get all the cancer off, she would've been paralyzed on her right side."

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Emma gets scanned every six months to ensure that the cancer has not grown. While there is only a 15 percent chance of that happening, according to Melody Hayden, it does not relieve the anxiety over the possibility of it growing again. She said the family's lives are still impacted by the circumstances.

"It wreaks havoc on … your family -- financially, emotionally and physically, all of those things," Melody Hayden said.

However, she said the circumstances have also taught her to cherish every moment, even the difficult ones.

"It is the everyday things that are the most precious," she said. "The glass is half-full, always. All you have is the moment. You're going to hold each of your children a little bit longer."

One thing that has helped the family to cope with the situation and find hope, in addition to the community support they have received, is the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Melody Hayden said.

"When you're going through all this … and you get the opportunity to know your child is going to get a wish -- something that's going to bring the family together, it's almost like a miracle," she said.

Emma remains in high spirits despite the circumstances, Melody Hayden said.

"Emma, the one that's gone through the most, she's the strongest … she's such a little fighter … she just wants to be a kid and play," she said. "Kids know no boundaries … they keep going and there's so much to learn from that."

Emma, her two sisters and her parents, Melody and Travis Hayden, will be headed to Disney World during Thanksgiving week for her Make-A-Wish trip.

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