Sarah Donegan’s 11th year of her life has been harder than any other, as she’s been adjusting to a “new normal.”
In January, reality for the Donegan family changed forever. Their daughter Sarah was rushed to the hospital after having a series of seizures in their Santa Clarita home.
“We were worried and we were scared,” said Sarah’s mother, Kathleen Donegan. “God is bigger than this, and he has a plan for her life.”
Sarah Donegan was born Oct. 10, 2006. She is one of five children in a blended family, and is highly involved in her church, The Sanctuary. She is a talented musician and part of the SCV home-schooled community.
The seizures “were little,” Donegan said. It wasn’t until Sarah said to her parents, “I can hear you, but I can’t see you,” that they rushed her to the hospital.
After they arrived at the emergency room, the doctors administered a CT scan. They discovered a mass in her brain — and she had a stronger seizure.
The doctors advised that she be transported to a Kaiser Permanente facility better equipped to handle her situation. She was then airlifted to Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center and hospitalized for a week while doctors ran a multitude of tests.
A team of specialists worked together to determine the best way to take a sample of the tumor, what was estimated to be a slow-growing, noninvasive and more than likely benign tumor.
The surgeon on the team of specialists decided to completely remove the tumor and have a biopsy sent out for testing.
The surgery that was supposed to be three hours took over seven, Donegan said.
After six weeks, the biopsy revealed the tumor to be a high-grade glioblastoma,or GBM, a rare form of brain cancer.
Sarah completed numerous radiation treatments and was scheduled to undergo six weeks of daily chemotherapy, her mother said.
“She underwent outpatient surgery where they placed a chest port into her chest, to make it easier for her doctors and nurses to access her blood vessels for medications and tests,” Donegan wrote on a GoFundMe page, created to help with medical expenses. “It also allows the chemotherapy medication to be delivered into her bloodstream through a large vein near her heart.”
She was able to finish the full round of radiation, but her body’s health would only allow her to complete four weeks of the chemo.
Sarah received numerous platelet and blood transfusions, and was hospitalized to boost her immune system.
In July, after a five-week chemo break, she started the final treatment in an attempt to rid her of possible remnants of the tumor.
This treatment is a yearlong maintenance chemotherapy through infusions at Kaiser Pediatric Infusion Center in Los Angeles. She is given two different chemo medications through her chest port, Donegan said. “She has to have MRIs every two months.”
The MRI is to monitor the area for new growth.
“Probability is small, but we are hopeful it will not grow,” Donegan said. “We have good days and we have bad days. There are some really hard times, mostly when she is suffering.”
As a family, the Donegans pray often and remind Sarah the Lord is with her.
Sarah is 12 years old as of Wednesday and continues to have a smile on her face, and wants to give back to others.
She has paired up with her cousin, Melissa Brooks, a Scentsy independent consultant, to start a Buddy Drive to donate to each child in the pediatric oncology department at Kaiser Los Angeles.
Sarah has a Scentsy buddy, which is lavender scented and brings her comfort through her cancer battle, Donegan said. “She wants to give back to other children. When we go into the clinic at Kaiser, we are with 10 families.”
The donations will help children find comfort through their treatments, and Sarah will deliver them to other children herself.
For more information, go to Sarah Smiles on Facebook www.facebook.com/pg/SarahSmiles10.
“She just has this gift,” her mother said. Besides giving back to others, she loves to play and write music on the piano.
During Sarah’s diagnosis, for a couple of months she was unable to play, and because of the tumor, it was unknown if it would be the same.
“The first time I saw her play again, I was just in tears,” Donegan said. “The Lord’s hand has definitely been upon her.”
Despite her disease, Sarah has continued to attend the AWANA at Grace Baptist Church, a Bible-based youth program with emphasis on Bible memorization.
She has received multiple awards in the program, and before she was diagnosed she chose a life verse as one of the program’s activities.
“It’s good for everything she is now going through,” Donegan said.
The verse she chose was Psalm 91:1. “He who dwells in the shelter of the most high will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.”
“We’ve always been upfront with Sarah,” her mother said. “Keeping this birthday surprise for her is the hardest thing.”
Sarah’s friends and family will surprise her Wednesday by not only singing her happy birthday, but also by wearing shirts, specially made with “Sarah Smiles” on the front and her life verse, with a gold ribbon in support of childhood cancer on the back.
“The shirts started out as something to show Sarah how much she is loved,” Donegan said.
It also has become a fundraiser. The proceeds from the shirts and GoFundMe will go toward medical expenses.
“Proceeds are going to her treatment and care,” Donegan said. Right now Sarah is getting chiropractic care and acupuncture.
“Those treatments alone help minimize the side effects of chemo and boost her immune system,” her mother said. “It’s hard to fight an invisible disease. I couldn’t imagine people going through this without support.”