A 12-year-old’s story strength, courage and perseverance
When we look back into our pasts, it is often that we can pin point moments that changed the course of our life’s travels. Sometimes that change is a slight veer from our journey’s course, and other times, we find ourselves facing a mountain. Such a moment unexpectedly came to the Slocumb family on August 4, 2016.
Loxley, a vibrant 12-year-old girl and the oldest daughter of Ty and Danniell Slocumb, had recently been complaining of leg pain. She’d been cheering that summer preparing for her 7th grade year to begin, when the range of motion in her left leg changed and her pain increased. “My parents set up an appointment to check it out. We thought it was a torn ligament, a pulled muscle or something,” she recalls.
As it turned out, it was quite a bit more complicated than that. An X-ray was scheduled August 2, 2016 with their local doctor, Dr. Brad Walter, in Thomasville, GA at 4:00 in the afternoon just after the second day into the new school year. He explained that Loxley appeared to have a tumor in her leg and sent the X-rays to a friend working at UF Health, Dr. Parker Gibbs. Within minutes, Dr. Gibbs had responded to Dr. Walters message and an appointment was scheduled for Loxley for the following morning. “He didn’t spare any time getting back with us,” Danniell said. “It was pretty amazing.”
The following morning, the Slocumb family made the two-and-a-half-hour drive to UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville where, all day, the preliminary scans and tests were completed with the hopes of giving the family an idea of what they were facing. Dr. Gibbs met with the Slocumb family later that evening after viewing all the test results and a biopsy was set for the following morning. Early on August 4, 2016, Loxley’s diagnosis was confirmed.
It was Osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that typically starts in bone cells in the arms, legs or pelvis. It would require chemo and a very aggressive and major surgery. “It was pretty scary and it didn’t really seem real at the time,” Loxley tells me. “It just was kind of shocking. But I knew that everything would be OK, so I just kind of went with it.”
How did she know that everything would be ok? Well, because she’s faithful and courageous and full of hope. “I knew that God’s hand was going to be in it through everything.” And with that knowledge firm within her, Loxley began to climb her mountain.
After Loxley’s diagnosis, a treatment plan was discussed with her assigned oncology team, Dr. Joanne Lagmay, Dr. Lauren Staley and Dr. Brian Stover, alongside her Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Parker Gibbs. Her treatment would consist of 10 weeks of chemo followed by major surgery to remove the tumor, followed by 20 more weeks of chemo, totaling 18 full rounds. The following day, the PowerPort, a device used to administer the chemo meds and allow for blood draws, was placed in her chest area. By that weekend, and only two days after her confirmed diagnosis, Loxley had received her first round of chemotherapy. Danniell says, “She did amazing. She didn’t feel her best, but didn’t get sick. She’s been amazingly strong from the very beginning.”
By that Monday they were back home. Yet Loxley did not return to school. Because of how aggressive her treatments were to be leading up to her surgery, going back to school was not an option. The chemotherapy she was administered caused her white blood cell counts to be extremely low thus making her at a higher risk of becoming sick, which could prolong the surgery. And so homeschooling began, which Loxley doesn’t exactly love. “It’s way harder than I thought it would be and I miss getting to see my friends every day. It’s pretty tough.”
Her life had drastically changed and it was not easy. But there were things that helped. Loxley loves to paint, mostly abstract art. It was an outlet for her during her journey. She also loves to craft and decorate and organize. She loves to bake, her specialty is cupcakes. And she loves to make slime and play with her little sister Riley.
On October 20, 2016, Dr. Gibbs and his team completed Loxley’s surgery to remove the tumor from the affected area. Almost 17 centimeters, or 7 inches if you ask Ty, of bone were removed from her lower left femur located right above her growth plate near the bend of her knee. A titanium rod was used to replace the femur and she also had total knee replacement in conjunction with the femur rod replacement.
“Being in the hospital, well, I didn’t like it too much. But all of the doctors, nurses, social workers and volunteers that would come by were really, really nice. They even threw me a 13th birthday party since I was in the hospital the week of my birthday,”” Loxley remembers. They brought her crafts and art supplies so she could paint and once, she even received the tools she needed to make some slime. The volunteers in the play area were kind and there was a movie list to choose from.
“It wasn’t too bad.” Danniell adds, “They try to make the best of a bad situation for these kids. All of them are personable and very sweet. The bonds that were created with our oncology team, our ortho team, the staff at Peds 42 and the peds clinic meant so much.”
It’s through the passionate efforts of multiple heath care professionals, surgeons, oncologists, nurses, social workers and volunteers that create a children’s hospital that is efficient, caring, supportive and innovative. Organizations like the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation have a huge impact on making sure that children and their families, like Loxley, receive the comfort and care they need while in the hospital. “They, the doctors, nurses, child life specialist, social workers, volunteers and anyone we encountered, are just so vested in your journey. They’re your cheerleaders. They really wanted to see Loxley succeed,” stated Danniell and Ty
After her surgery, Loxley began her 20 additional weeks of chemotherapy along with physical therapy to strengthen her leg and regain mobility. “Physical therapy is pretty tough, but it’s not as tough now. Most people think of it as really easy. It’s not,” Loxley explains. Ty adds that there were lots of tears from frustration and pain. “It’s really hard,” agrees Loxley.
Even still, her amazing positive outlook and strength served her well, and on March 29th of this year, after having finished her last round of chemo a couple of weeks prior, Loxley was declared in remission and ‘rang the bell,’ a symbol of hope and accomplishment. “It’s just kind of a celebration. Shows that you’ve made it,” Loxley says with a smile. “It felt really good.”
No doubt, Loxley’s faith and strength came from her parents. During this journey, both Danniell and Ty took things day by day and held on to their favorite verse in the scriptures, Jeremiah 29:11, as well as each other. “Loxley was so positive, it helped us to think positive and hold our heads up high,” Danniell explained. They don’t exactly know or understand why God chose for Loxley to fight this battle, but they do know that He has great plans for her. “Her battle along with her positive outlook makes for an amazing testimony. This journey has made her stronger than we already knew she was.”
Loxley is now excited to reenter school for 8th grade. She has missed seeing her friends and there is a “really cool science teacher” she’s excited to have. And beyond that, has dreams of becoming a pediatric doctor. Or maybe put her baking skills to work to open her own bakery. Or perhaps become an interior designer. And who knows, with her courage and determination and faith, perhaps she’ll be all three.
As for advice for other families who are beginning a similar journey, Loxley says, “Keep your head up. And think of it as a tunnel and just keep focusing on the light at the end of that tunnel. Be very positive and there will be a good outcome.”
Wise advice for us all.
To help support Loxley and other children facing medical treatment, you may join the Sebastian Ferrero Foundation at their annual fundraising event, Noche de Gala, on May 20, 2017.