Two weeks after her father died of a sudden illness, 2-year-old Nya Williams was diagnosed with cancer.
It came out of the blue, said Nya’s mother. She pondered her suddenly changing future during a life flight ride from Boardman to Akron where a leukemia diagnosis would be confirmed.
“I kept asking myself, ‘What did I do wrong? Why couldn’t it be me?’,” Brittany Decker said. “She was a fun, healthy little girl just a few days before that.”
It was September 2017, and Nya had started showing signs of being sick right after her father passed. Initially she felt cold and would sleep for extended periods. Her pediatrician suspected she missed her dad and was feeling depressed.
Two weeks later her symptoms progressed to refusing to eat or drink, so she was taken to the Beeghly campus emergency room.
“As soon as we walked in they could tell something wasn’t right,” she said.
She was jaundiced, her hemoglobin levels were dangerously low, and doctors ordered a life flight to Akron.
Her mother cried the entire helicopter ride feeling she might lose her daughter. When they arrived in Akron they were taken to a room where she said 20 or 30 doctors, nurses and staff were waiting for her.
“With so many people in the room I knew it was serious. I just wanted to hold her,” Brittany said.
Twenty-four hours and a difficult bone marrow sample extraction later, Nya’s leukemia type was identified, and a treatment plan was in the works. Three years of aggressive chemotherapy would be her course of action. Further, to avoid risk of illness she would have to limit her exposure to others, particularly other children. Brittany quit her job to be with Nya around the clock.
“You know cancer is out there, but you don’t expect your own child to have it,” Brittany said. “Knowing she has to go through three years of treatment and it might not even work is the toughest part. Your twos and threes are supposed to be a fun time, but for her it will be the three toughest years of her life.”
Nya’s formed an inseparable bond with her dog, Allie, during this process, and she loves to play outside, especially on her trampoline.
Brittany looks forward to November 2020 when Nya’s three-year treatment cycle is complete. And she credits the support she’s received from Akron Children’s for helping her stay positive.
“Dr. (Matt) Henderson and Dr. (Donna) Patton are amazing,” she said. “They answer my questions, call me with my lab results, explain everything very well and they just love Nya.
“I’m very realistic. I understand it can go one way or another. I’m optimistic but I prepare for the worst. I live day by day with her. When you have a kid with cancer it’s really just day by day.”