Lara is a very brave girl with a powerful soul. She naturally calms any room she finds herself in. She looks on with confidence and a steady smile, searching you with her deep eyes, reassuring you that everything will be ok.
Spring was turning out to be a good one for 6-year-old Lara Grace Boudreaux. Her family had just purchased their new home in January and were finally settled in and loving their neighborhood. Lara was a first-grader at Bayou Community Academy, the new charter school in Thibodaux, and excelling academically. She was a 4.0 student and had made many new friends. But before the spring semester ended, the first sign that all was not well appeared.
“After brushing her teeth for school one Monday morning, she slipped while stepping down from her stool, making a split,” says Nikki Boudreaux, Lara’s mother. “She complained of being uncomfortable, but it was not enough to keep her from going to school.”
LET’S HAVE A LOOK
Although Lara made it to school, on Monday and Tuesday the pain she was having was evident on her face when her dad, Michael Boudreaux, greeted her off of the school bus Tuesday afternoon. He called Nikki, who was working out of town, and they made the decision to take Lara to an urgent care center. An X-ray showed an abnormality, so the attending doctor suggested that Lara consult an orthopedist. Michael returned to the urgent care center the next day to pick up copies of the X-rays, and told the doctor that their appointment with the orthopedist was in five days.
The doctor strongly opposed to waiting that long, and immediately called the orthopedist to schedule an appointment for Lara on Thursday, the next day. At this point, the family was concerned, but held on to their faith and hoped for the best. Further testing revealed that Lara had a soft tissue mass and that her femur was deformed and shaped like an hourglass. The family knew it was something serious, but, like all families, they could not think of the worst.
“When I heard mass, cancer came to my mind right away. But I just could not allow myself to think of it,” Nikki says.
More scans were performed on Friday, and then on Monday the results were taken with Lara to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. They held onto hope because before the slip, there were no other symptoms. Lara never complained and was not a sickly child. She was just an average, everyday 6-year-old. By Tuesday, a biopsy of the mass had been taken, and the family continued to pray for the best.
GETTING ‘THE NEWS’
On Thursday, March 22, 2012, the results from the biopsy showed what Nikki had feared all along—Lara had been diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer that typically affects children. Instead of knocking them down, however, the diagnosis ignited the fight within them. The family experienced a wide range of emotions—disbelief, fear, anger, sadness and everything in between—before they came to the fighting point. They vowed to think positively and to do anything they could to win this battle. There was a little ray of hope still peeking through. Fortunately, the tumor was still localized, there were no other masses, and Lara’s lungs were clear.
Ewing’s sarcoma is a primary bone cancer that affects developing children, especially those going through puberty. When compared with other cancers, malignant bone tumors like Ewing’s sarcoma are rare. There are 250 diagnoses per year in the U.S., and Lara and her family felt the burden of now being a part of that statistic. Ewing’s sarcoma is a very aggressive form of cancer; therefore, treatment must also be aggressive.
“In the beginning, we felt so alone; we were told to speak to someone else who has the same condition or has been through this—to maybe see what we were up against—but with Ewing’s, that is difficult,” Nikki says. “There are not many cases, and it is very rare to find the exact same kind of case. No one responds to the treatments the same way, and the treatments are not the same for different people—it is very individualized.”
In the following months, the oncology ward at Children’s Hospital became Lara’s home away from home. Once again, the family was knocked down when cancer cells were found in Lara’s bone marrow—meaning that the cancer was metastatic. Lara began a rigorous cycle of chemotherapy in an effort to kill the cancerous cells and shrink the tumor before having it removed by surgery.
HOLD MY HAND
During her treatment, Lara had her good days and her bad days.
“We know that she is going to get sick at least once during each treatment—sometimes it is better than others—but Lara never gives up her fight,” Nikki says. “Besides the fact that she has lost her hair, she has responded and handled treatment really well.”
Lara is a very brave girl with a powerful soul. She naturally calms any room she finds herself in. She looks on with confidence and a steady smile, searching you with her deep eyes, reassuring you that everything will be OK. She has been brave through it all; she listens, takes things in, and rationalizes the situation. Sometimes, it seems that she is leading the way to recovery all on her own. She creates the impression that she has been through it all before and knows exactly what is going to happen. Sure, Lara has had her moments of “Why me?” and “Why can’t I be normal?” But those moments are few and far between.
After being poked and prodded so many times, she gets tired of it; but instead of whining or complaining, she just gets quiet and lets her mom take control of the reins. She has always been a private person—more of a giver than a taker. She enjoys making others happy, and would prefer to have the attention aimed away from her.
Lara has always been more perceptive than others her age, and has a history of absorbing everything around her like a sponge. Since her battle began, her life has changed in more than just the physical aspect. She dreams of one day becoming a pediatrician when she is older. She wants to help others who will have the same battles to fight and let them know that they are not alone. She knows how it feels and knows what makes her feel better, so she wants to help others feel better, too.
Although Lara celebrated her seventh birthday on June 28, she has aged far greater than one year emotionally. Her demeanor and attitude are what you would expect from someone much older going through the same condition. Lara is always trying to reassure others around her that things will be fine and that they must keep moving forward; to her, there is no other option.
After three months of chemotherapy, scans revealed that the tumor had shrunk enough and that Lara’s orthopedic surgeon would be able to save her leg. Additional testing revealed that there were no more detectable cancer cells present. With Ewing’s sarcoma, these results can be a bit confusing because although the tests did not find cancer cells, that doesn’t mean that there are none present. The cells could be so small that they are undetectable at the time of testing. Still, Lara’s results were great news for her and her family—the tests showed that treatment was working in her favor and that it was time to advance to the next phase.
On July 12, Lara had surgery to remove the mass and the affected part of the femur in her left leg. Doctors removed the majority of the muscle, as well as three-fifths of her femur; her fibula from her left lower leg was removed and then grafted to both the remaining parts of her femur and growth plates in her left upper leg. Since Lara is so little and now only 7 years old, she was placed in a body cast in an effort to keep her bones as stable as possible with minimal movement. Her size and age are an advantage to the healing process—her bones still have a considerable amount of growing to do, and the grafts should easily take. The body cast has to remain for 4-6 weeks, depending upon the healing process.
“The itching really isn’t bad—it only feels funny when something knocks the cast and it kind of vibrates and tickles,” Lara says.
Her cast is deep purple, and it begins at her left foot and extends up to her chest. She remains in a lying position at all times in an effort to immobilize her spine and long bones.
MAKING THE BEST OF IT
Lara looks forward to her second-grade school year, and is very excited that she will have two teachers instead of one. BCA’s home-bound program will provide a teacher to assist Lara at home with all of her lessons during the time that she will be continuing treatments. With the help of her mom, dad and older sister, Brie, Lara is confident that she will learn everything the other kids at school are learning. In her off time, Lara enjoys watching “Scooby-Doo,” “Phineas and Ferb” and other Disney shows. Like many other girls her age, her favorite color is pink and she treasures her collection of Lalaloopsy dolls and pillowcase.
Lara has been a huge fan of TV crime drama “NCIS” since she was younger. At age 4, she dressed as Abby Sciuto from the show. While hospitalized at Children’s Hospital, she received a signed hat by Pauley Perrette, the actress who plays Abby. Her hat is proudly displayed on the top of her bedroom dresser so she can easily see it from her bed. Lara also enjoys playing games and accepting challenges. Her favorite game is “Pop the Pig,” and she loves when the whole family plays along. Lara makes the most of her idle time since she is confined to her home. She is only allowed out to go to the hospital for treatments. It’s a precaution taken to avoid getting sick. Her immune system is affected by the chemo, and she is more susceptible to the common cold, viruses and any other infections lingering in the air and on surfaces.
DAY BY DAY, BATTLE BY BATTLE
The next step in Lara’s treatment is harvesting her stem cells for a possible stem cell transplant in her near future. Although the doctors have suggested a stem cell transplant, that decision has yet to be made. Her parents are weighing heavily on this option since it is risky for someone so young. This particular treatment would consist of Lara’s blood being circulated through a cell-separating machine. The device removes a fraction of the white cells, which includes the stem cells, and stores them. The cells are then frozen at minus 196 degrees Celsius until transplant time. To eradicate the cancerous tissue prior to the stem cell transplant, Lara would receive five or more days of intense chemotherapy. Approximately 48 hours after the completion of the high-dose treatment, Lara’s previously donated stem cells would be re-infused into the bloodstream. The stem cells naturally migrate to the bone marrow, where they begin to multiply and mature into red and white cells and platelets. During the weeks that follow the transplant, Lara’s immune system and blood functions would gradually recover to a normal level.
Doctors remain positive about Lara’s prognosis. Thus far, she has responded well to all treatment. With Ewing’s sarcoma, a patient is not considered cancer-free or in remission, like other cancers, until 10 years of testing that show no cancer cells. Lara still has a minimum of nine months of chemotherapy to come. She will continue to get tested every three months for the next 10 or more years. The family vows to keep up the fight and continue winning their battles and, ultimately, the war. PoV
Join Lara in her fight against Ewing’s sarcoma. Femmes Natales will host a 5K race on Sept. 29 at Peltier Park in Thibodaux to benefit Lara and her family. If you would like to register or donate to the cause, get in touch with Kelly Soignet of Femmes Natales at 985.209.9569.