Family keeps up smiles for Sarah

Kathleen, Sarah, Sean and Emma Donegan, left to right. Courtesy

While Saturday is a day to support children with cancer as Feb. 15 is International Childhood Cancer Day, for the Donegan family, it’s something they do every day. 

Kathleen and Sean Donegan and their four other children have spent the past two years supporting their daughter and sister Sarah Donegan, a 13-year-old who has been battling an aggressive form of brain cancer. 

In January 2018, Sarah was rushed to the hospital where doctors discovered a mass in her brain. 

“We were worried and we were scared,” Sarah’s mother, Kathleen Donegan, said in a previous Signal interview. “God is bigger than this, and he has a plan for her life.”

The Donegan Family, from left to right, Sean Donegan, Sarah Donegan, Kathleen Donegan (above), Emma Donegan (below) Jessica Ortiz and Jacob Ortiz. Courtesy

After several weeks and surgery to remove the tumor, a biopsy revealed the tumor to be a high-grade glioblastoma.

Since then, Sarah has undergone various treatments, including countless rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, as well as numerous platelet and blood transfusions, all the while hoping the tumor would not return. 

“We have good days and we have bad days,” Donegan said. “There are some really hard times, mostly when she is suffering.”

As Sarah adjusted to life with cancer, she continued to attend church, as well as play and write music on the piano — two things she loved. 

Her family and friends even made “Sarah Smiles” shirts for her to show how much she’s loved, which became a fundraiser with proceeds going toward her treatment. 

Sarah Donegan stands with balloons and flowers from dozens of supporters on her 12th birthday on Oct. 10, 2018. Cory Rubin/ The Signal

“She was doing really well over the summer, but chemo was difficult for her and it was hard on her body, so she took a break,” family friend Kathy O’Connor said.

A couple of weeks after Sarah’s 13th birthday, she was admitted into the hospital after she began complaining of symptoms similar to what she had felt when she was first diagnosed. 

“After her MRI, the doctors informed us that her original tumor has started to grow once again,” a post on the Sarah Smiles Facebook page read on Oct. 29, 2019.

In the days that followed, the Donegans received heartbreaking news. Not only had the tumor grown quickly and aggressively, but also it had entered an area considered inoperable.

Still, Sarah underwent surgery to remove as much of the new growth as possible in an effort to buy more time, and soon after, she was discharged from the hospital and began a new round of chemotherapy. 

Sarah Donegan, left, pets a service dog as her mother, Kathleen Donegan, watches on Nov. 6, 2019. Courtesy

“We are hoping to buy more time with our sweet girl, but the horrible truth is that she may not have longer than a year left with us,” another Facebook post on Oct. 30, 2019 read. “We are not giving up hope for a miracle, but Sarah is asking that we not be angry with God. She wants as many of us who are willing, when it is our time, to join her in heaven.” 

In December, Sarah was accepted into a clinical trial, which she began treatment for in January, though she remained in a lot of pain. 

Sarah had only received two immunotherapy treatments before again finding herself in the hospital in the first days of February with horrible pain in her head, as the tumor had grown significantly on the right side and had now invaded the left side.

“Now, because of the growth of the tumor, she is no longer on the clinical trial,” O’Connor said. “They are going to try radiation starting this week in hopes that that will shrink some of the tumor and help her with the pain, which is pretty severe, and allow the rest of her time to be more comfortable.”

Sarah Donegan and her pup Sunny lay in her hospital bed at home on Feb. 13, 2020. Courtesy

Sarah was released from the hospital last week and is now at home on hospice care, as her family continues to make her comfortable as they spend as much time with her as possible. 

Those close to the family are hosting a fundraiser for the community, entitled “Donegan Fundraising Feast,” a silent auction and dinner for Sarah and her family next Saturday, Feb. 22, where all of the funds will go directly to the Donegan family, according to O’Connor.

“The goal is to have them not worry,” she said, adding that though Kathleen is a stay-at-home mom, Sean still works, so any donations will allow him to stay home with Sarah. 

“It’s hard to fight an invisible disease,” Kathleen Donegan said. “I couldn’t imagine people going through this without support.”

To follow Sarah’s journey, visit facebook.com/SarahSmiles10. To support Sarah and the Donegan family, visit bit.ly/SarahSmilesGoFundMe, bit.ly/PaypalSarahSmiles or Venmo @kathleen-donegan-3. 

Donegan Fundraising Feast is scheduled 5-8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 22, at Crossroads Community Church, located at 25300 Rye Canyon Road in Valencia, and tickets are $50. For more information, visit bit.ly/DoneganFeast.

Sarah Donegan, 12, comes through the front door to dozens of supporters singing “Happy Birthday” to her. Cory Rubin/ The Signal

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