Smiling against the odds: Golden Valley student to undergo risky surgery next week

Cheyenne Hughes, 15, shows off her Optimus Prime action figure inside her Canyon Country home Monday night. Austin Dave/The Signal

Fifteen year old Cheyenne Hughes loves Optimus Prime and the Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles.  The Golden Valley High School student’s room is full of memorabilia, stuffed animals, action figures and a bear named Teddy Roosevelt.

Her father, Paul Hughes, has described her as a strong girl who “teaches us how to live our lives gracefully and appreciate life.”

During the last six years, Cheyenne Hughes battled cancer and underwent surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, in addition to fighting a rare genetic disorder called Familial Adenomatous Polyposis.

In one week, the warmhearted teen will be undergoing a complicated and dangerous surgery to remove a tumor found shortly before Thanksgiving Day at the base of her brain and around her C2 vertebrae.

Doctors found the new tumor when Cheyenne Hughes went in to get a scan to finish facial reconstruction procedures, according to Cheyenne’s father Paul Hughes.

With limited options after discovery of the new tumor, the family chose to pursue a high-risk operation called a “radical neck dissection” so Cheyenne does not slowly lose the ability to live a normal life.

“It’s the way we have to go; it’s not really an option,” Paul Hughes said.  “When we went in Wednesday right before Thanksgiving, I don’t think any of us were expecting that’s what they were going to say.  With any surgery there is a slight risk of not making it, but to say ‘significant’ was scary.”

Amy Hughes, Cheyenne’s step-mom, understands how tough the impending surgery will be for the team of doctors from Cedars-Sinai and UCLA.

“I’m a nurse so unfortunately I know exactly how difficult this is going to be,” she said.  “It’s radical.  It’s a very intense procedure and it’s going to be pretty difficult for them to do.”

After Paul and Amy Hughes discovered how serious the surgery will be, they shared the news with Cheyenne’s teachers through a letter to Golden Valley High School Principal Sal Frias.

“A lot of the teachers really care about her so I wanted to let everyone know what was going on,” Paul Hughes said.  “In the letter I wanted to let everyone know the seriousness of what we had found out and what she was going to be facing.”

Paul Hughes said he also wanted to let everyone know so they could make sure her final weeks in school were good ones.

Cheyenne will have her surgery at Cedars-Sinai with a team of doctors, including an orthopedic surgeon, pediatric neurosurgeon, plastic surgeon, head and neck surgeon and ENT surgeon, from the hospital and UCLA.

The team of doctors will work to remove the tumor from the base of the skull, the C2 vertebrae and around the nerves before fusing the spine back to the skull.

“Fortunately we found some really wonderful doctors at Cedars and they’re also partnering with some UCLA doctors to come and do this surgery because it was too dangerous for anyone else,” Amy Hughes said.

Four weeks after the surgery, Cheyenne will travel to San Diego’s Rady Children’s Hospital for proton radiation on part of the tumor that is inoperable.

“The doctor that will be working with her is one of the doctors that worked with her when she was younger and had proton radiation in Bloomington, Indiana,” Amy Hughes said.  “And that’s very fortunate; he remembers her.”

While Paul Hughes and Cheyenne’s siblings are in San Diego, Amy Hughes will continue working in Los Angeles to help support the cost of the surgeries and the apartment the family plans to rent in San Diego.

To help shelter some of the costs, the Hughes family created a GoFundMe account to support Cheyenne’s surgeries and treatments and the family’s temporary move.

“We knew what we could do and we can stretch it, but we can never be able to pay it all off and make sure she can get all the treatment she’s supposed to,” Paul Hughes said.  “I don’t want her to miss a treatment because we didn’t have the money for it.”

Cheyenne Hughes, 15, plays with one of her Transformers action figures inside her Canyon Country home Monday night. Austin Dave/The Signal
Cheyenne Hughes, 15, plays with one of her Transformers action figures inside her Canyon Country home Monday night. Austin Dave/The Signal

So far, Amy Hughes said the family is already touched by the outpouring of support from those in the community and at the hospitals.

“We can’t even believe how everyone is coming together to support her so we’re really touched by that and very grateful,” she said.

To make it through the next few months the family is relying on each other so they can continue to love and laugh, together.

“We always call ourselves ‘Team Hughes,’ we have for a long time,” Paul Hughes said.  “You’re family and you go through it together, whether it’s the pain or the fun stuff.  If you stick together then it’s really not that bad because you have each other.”

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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