Her parents call her sassy, spunky. They say she’s a tomboy who likes to run around with her older brothers and roughhouse. And at only 2 years of age, McKenna Xydias is a cancer survivor.
“She absolutely is the strongest person that we know,” says Michael Xydias, her father.
Kenni, as her parents call her, rarely lets anything slow her down. This summer she’s getting back to full speed as she recovers from ovarian cancer, a disease that young girls rarely get.
Late last year, around the time the Xydias family moved into a new home in Georgia, Michael says Kenni was getting “off-again, on-again sick with fevers -- for so long that we kept taking days off work.” His wife, Meagan, had a gut feeling something was very wrong. She asked Kenni’s doctors to run more tests, and her suspicions were eventually confirmed. Kenni had a malignant germ-cell tumor -- the type known as a “yolk sac.” It was stage III cancer, and it had spread from her ovary to her abdomen and pelvis.
Katie Sutton, MD, treated Kenni. She’s a pediatric oncologist for the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Sutton says fever is one symptom of an ovarian yolk sac tumor. A more common sign is belly pain, which can be brief or ongoing, she says. The stomach may also look bigger than usual, or uncomfortably bloated -- a symptom Kenni’s daycare noticed on one occasion. Since these can be signs of less-serious problems, Sutton recommends that you talk to your child’s pediatrician about any symptoms that concern you -- and don’t skip well-child checkups, she says.
“It’s very difficult to explain to a 2-year-old what’s going on,” says her father, Michael. “But she fully understood in her own way. And we made it more appropriate for her.”
He says Kenni went through treatment “like a champ,” facing challenges with a smile. “She might not have been happy at that exact moment, but a couple minutes later ... she’d flip a switch and forget that she was hooked up to all these different machines -- and she just wanted to play.”
A parent’s love, attention, and willingness to answer their child’s questions are important during treatment, Sutton says. “Kids thrive on routine. While cancer is a huge disruption of anyone’s routine, seeking out pieces of their lives that can be normal during treatment and then returning to their regular activities after therapy is over can be a huge help,” she says.
During their stay in the hospital with Kenni, Michael and Meagan Xydias also had to find a way to keep their two sons’ lives as normal as possible. To do that, they gratefully accepted help from loved ones and other people in their community.
“The boys continued to have school and baseball practice, and family and friends stepped up and took them where they needed to go, brought them where they needed to be, fed them,” Michael says. “It has been completely uplifting and supportive for us as a family to be able to get through this with all of that love and support.”
Now that Kenni is done with her treatment and cancer-free, she and her family can start looking forward to the future. Sutton expects the little girl to do great. “Her chance of remaining free from germ cell tumor is about 95%,” she says.
Kenni will go back to daycare next year, Michael says. In the meantime, Sutton and the rest of her medical team will be watching Kenni's health closely with checkups, blood tests, and imaging scans. Once she’s old enough, it would be good for her to learn more about the disease she overcame, Sutton says.
“When kids are as young as Kenni when they go through treatment, it’s important to educate them throughout their lives about their cancer and their therapy so they can be lifelong advocates for their health,” she says.
For now, the Xydias family is celebrating Kenni’s recovery. But they’re also keeping in mind the things they learned from their months of heartache. “It really showed us to enjoy every little minute that you get, because you don’t know what’s going to come next,” Michael says. “So just enjoy what you have in front of you. Be happy with it.”