As a 9-year-old little girl, life should revolve around playing, spending time with your family and friends, and doing what you love during summer vacation.
That is what life was like for Aracely Gonzalez, until her young life changed dramatically June 1 when she was diagnosed with a PNET (primitive neuroectodermal) tumor of the brain.
Since that time, she has undergone four surgeries and has been in a medically induced coma for 12 days.
Gonzalez is now conscious and is slowly regaining the ability to speak to her family and regain some movement, but she is still in the early stages of her treatment. Gonzalez and her family face several more months of treatment before they know if the tumor was fully eradicated.
“Aracely came to me in tears on the first (of June) saying she had a horrible headache,” Kimberly Gonzalez, Aracely’s mother told the Democrat by phone from the University of Missouri Columbia Women’s and Children’s Hospital where Aracely is being treated.
“She had complained of having a few other headaches which we thought were migraines. I knew something that day was different,” Gonzalez added. “It must have been a mother’s instinct, but I just felt that she was horribly sick.”
Gonzalez had scheduled a doctor’s appointment for Cely — Aracely’s nickname — but decided not to wait and instead took her daughter to the hospital emergency room in Columbia.
After spending the night in the emergency room being seen by countless doctors and undergoing a battery of tests, on June 2, Cely underwent a 12-hour operation to remove the tumor.
Her doctors were unable to remove the entire tumor, which Gonzalez described as the size of an orange during the first surgery.
The following day in another surgery, the medical team worked to cut off the blood flow to the tumor in an attempt to stop the tumor’s growth.
On June 6, Cely underwent the second surgery to remove the tumor. Again, they were unable to remove the entire tumor because of possible permanent damage to the brain.
“She also had a trach put in because her respiratory muscles are weak,” Gonzalez said. “She is having trouble breathing and her lungs have some fluid in them.”
The next stage of treatment for Cely is her chemotherapy.
According to her mother, Cely will undergo five rounds of chemotherapy over the course of the next five months.
“Cely began her chemo today,” Gonzalez said Wednesday. “She is on a 21-day cycle and will have four straight days on and three days off. After two months, they will re-evaluate her treatment.
If she responds well to the chemotherapy, the next step may involve harvesting some of Cely’s stem cells for a transplant. That surgery would be done at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City.
“They really don’t want to do any radiation at this time because the medical team is considering her long-term prognosis,” Gonzalez said.
According to Harvard Medical School, PNET tumors are classified as malignant neural crest tumors. They are extremely rare occurring in children and young adults under the age of 25. On average, they occur in only five of every 100,000 children.
Despite all the bad news, Gonzalez has found miracles in the little things that are so often taken for granted.
“She got to have a bath today,” Gonzalez said Wednesday morning. “It was a good morning. A few days ago, she was able to squeeze my hand for the first time when she came out of her coma. You never think about how much those things mean.
“Today she was able to sit in a chair,” she added. “She was focusing on ‘Toy Story’ and she is beginning to listen and respond to things. When the nurse came in, she needed to use one of Cely’s fingers for a test. Cely held up the finger she wanted the nurse to use. Despite everything, she knows.”
Another thing that has made the last month more bearable is that Cely has her family with her. Since Cely was diagnosed, Gonzalez and her husband, Javier, and daughters, Claudia, 12, and Marcella, 11, have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Columbia.
“Having Javier and our daughters here has meant so much,” Gonzalez said. “Javier is so strong; he is the one who takes care of all of us. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have him here. He is our protector.”
Javier Gonzalez has spent much of his adult life protecting others.
Gonzalez is a 12-year member of the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office, serving as a deputy patrol officer.
“Javier has been a long-term employee in our office,” Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said. “He has spent 12 years serving the citizens of Pettis County and we would really appreciate everyone to step up and help him and his family in their time of need.”
Deputy Brad Chancellor, a co-worker and friend of Gonzalez, has organized a barbecue from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday at Bing’s East Supermarket, 1701 E. Broadway Blvd., as a fundraiser to help with the family’s medical expenses.
“We’re going to have hot dogs and chips and drinks available,” Chancellor said. “It’s a free will donation. We know times are difficult financially for everyone and so we want people to give as little or as much as they can.”
The event will also have activities for children, including a fire simulator demonstration by the Sedalia Fire Department, patrol cars from the Sheriff’s Office, a fire truck and members from the Pettis County Ambulance District will be present.
“We have some raffle items including a toolbox and we’re planning on doing a 50-50 raffle too,” Chancellor added.
The Sheriff’s Office has also set up an account at the five US Bank locations in Sedalia for individuals wishing to contribute to the “Hope for Aracely” fund. There is also a GoFundMe account with the same name that has been established for the family.
“It’s really hard for us to ask anyone for help,” Gonzalez said “Everyone has been so kind and all their prayers have helped so much. We are all positive we will get her through this and have our little girl back.”