Dara was a spunky, stubborn, funny little girl with a wonderful imagination. She possessed her own beautiful logic, which drove her older brother crazy. She was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was just three years old.
The first signs of obvious illness came the day after Christmas 2017. While away from home, Dara became so sick that her pediatrician recommended the family visit an urgent care center before driving three hours back to their home in Maryland. Urgent Care sent the family to the ER, the ER sent them to Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. The Children’s Hospital determined that Dara’s symptoms and high fever had developed from a scraped knee and an inflamed appendix. After treating her for a leg infection and removing her appendix, the family left, thinking the worst was over.
Over the next six weeks, although her cellulitis was healed, she was upset, bothered, and afraid, leaving her family baffled. On President’s Day of 2018, the family was dealt the worse news imaginable – Dara had a brain tumor.
“We had taken her to the doctor because she started walking like a drunk person. The next day, we found out the prognosis, and our world flipped over,” said Dara’s mom Lauren.
The family’s community and church rallied around them, helping to get them through the initial radiation treatment.
“Weeks 2 and 3 were the worst,” said Lauren. “The steroids and the radiation and the tumor itself were really tough on her small body. I questioned why we were doing this. Over time, though, she felt better. All symptoms disappeared, and she was happy. The four of us- Dara, my husband, Dan, and our older son Sam- enjoyed a wonderful summer as a family. We went to Disney World, and she met Elsa and Anna!”
Dara enrolled in an immunotherapy trial, but before the cells were ready to be reintroduced, they discovered that the tumor was growing back. It was the day after Halloween, All Saints’ Day. The MRI was showing progression before her symptoms caught up, catching the family by surprise.
Dara unsuccessfully tried a chemotherapy trial for a month. She was exhausted and increasingly symptomatic. Over the Christmas and New Years’ holidays, one year after diagnosis, Dara had another round of radiation, experiencing different symptoms and side effects than the first time around.
While their journey was heartbreaking and hard, it was also, at times, joyous.
“Our friends, family, coworkers, and church have supported our family in incredible, loving ways the entire time without pause, as has Defeat DIPG. Thank you all for enabling the time we had with our daughter to be as stress-free as possible given the circumstances. She was clearly loved by many.
Dara passed away on March 30, 2019.