“It’s hard at first, but you get through it”

By Mary Lemma

Emily GilleyEmily Gilley seems fairly like any 15-year old. She likes to hang out with friends, read style magazines and mysteries, and enjoys the company of her family and her pets — a Red Heeler / Collie mix and two cats. She’s prepping to get her learner’s permit.

The small-town girl–she’s from Burlington, Colo., a town about 15 miles from the Kansas border–and her family have just returned from a trip to visit her brother in college over the July 4th weekend. She has also just begun a round of chemotherapy that will last through June 2011.

Emily is being treated for a medulloblastoma, a fast-growing type of brain tumor that usually occurs in younger children. The tumor was removed by surgeons at Children’s Hospital Colorado–CU Cancer Center’s pediatric clinical partner. Then she underwent six weeks of daily radiation treatment under direction of Colorado’s only pediatric radiation oncologist, CU Cancer Center member Arthur Liu, MD, PhD, at University of Colorado Hospital’s leading-edge radiation therapy center.

Emily is participating in a clinical trial to help determine if lower doses of radiation can be used and smaller areas targeted. The trial is still open so results aren’t known yet. “We’re very thankful that she’s participating,” Liu says. We can’t advance medicine without patients like Emily.”

Her prognosis, Liu says, is excellent. Before Emily learned about the tumor — she was admitted to Children’s the day it was diagnosed — her long-term goal was to be an equine veterinarian. For now, though, she says, I just want my hair back.”

When you’re 15 you can’t see through the week, let alone the year,” says her mother Nancy.

The operation to remove the tumor and the ensuing radiation treatment forced Emily to miss the last two months at Burlington Middle School. Her mom took 12 weeks off from her job at Kit Carson County Memorial Hospital. She ferried homework between school and Emily’s aunt’s home in Bennett–two hours from home but just 30 minutes from the Anschutz Medical Campus–where Emily stayed Monday through Friday during treatment.

I did the homework but it wasn’t much fun,” Emily says. It’s not easy to blend into a crowd when you’ve grown up in a town with a population of less than 4,000, where there is one middle school and one high school (which Emily will enter this fall), so Emily’s ordeal is well known. Her future teachers and classmates at Burlington High are standing by to lend a hand. Everyone’s being really supportive,” she says. I’m hearing from kids I haven’t even met yet.”

Although she’s aware of the effects of chemo, Emily appreciates that she won’t be poked with needles.” The medicine will be introduced through a port just below her collarbone.