As Jaylyn Eastman twirls like a ballerina in her grandmother’s living room, it is hard to believe this is what childhood cancer looks like.
The spunky four-year old moves from toy to toy, playing for a moment before coming to the couch to cuddle up to Grandma Tammy Clark. Two seconds, Jaylyn, in her pink ballerina dress with medical tubes peeking out the top, shows off her cartwheel skills, tumbling all over the carpet, laughing.
Life is improving for Jaylyn, but it has been a long road and her family hasn’t reached the end of it yet.
Krista Eastman, Jaylyn’s mom, says the little girl was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer just before she turned three. Tumors were rapidly growing in her body and by the time the cancer was discovered, her entire chest “from her belly to her esophagus” was clogged with one giant tumor. There were more in her legs and hips.
Eastman says doctors said the cancer was rare in children Jaylyn’s age. Children 18 months old usually beat the cancer with aggressive treatment – the prognosis for Jaylyn wasn’t as good. “She had the worst of the worst,” says Eastman. “They gave her a four percent chance of survival. They didn’t think she would make it through the first month. They did the first round of chemo as an experiment.”
Doctors began aggressive treatment of the tumors and Jaylyn responded well. Eventually, the tumor in her chest shrunk so it could be removed. Since then there has been a stem cell transplant, 20 rounds of radiation, and five cycles of immune therapy.
Eastman says it has been a long road for the family. “The family dynamic just doesn’t exist,” she says.
Eastman says she and her husband Ryan try to spend as much time as possible with Jaylyn when she’s in the hospital but that means they often “just see each other in passing.”
And the couple has twin boys where were only weeks old when Jaylyn was diagnosed. They’ve spend a lot of time with Eastman’s grandmother. And while she misses them, Eastman says for now they’re okay. “They were young enough that as long as they were fed and went to bed, they were content.”
While family and friends know about Jaylyn’s struggles, Eastman decided to come forward now since September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. She says dealing with childhood cancer is much different than adult cancer. “As an adult, you can make your own decisions…you can take your time off and you understand the treatment that is going on,” she says. “Kids don’t understand. Most of the time you think you feel good.”
And while Jaylyn may not understand all the treatment, she’s not shy to say she has cancer. Eastman recounts how a doctor at a hospital in London commented on her “cute hair cut” in an elevator. “It’s not a hair cut. I have cancer,” the four year old told him.
“She has been very aware of what’s going on…very aware she has it and tells people ‘Don’t touch my tubies.’”
And that has had an effect on her. “She has become beyond her years. She acts like she is ten.”
Eastman says local businesses have been very support of the family through Jaylyn’s cancer fight and there have been random acts of kindness. Tammy Clark says at Christmas someone filled their back deck with gifts for the family.
And if there is one thing Eastman has learned throughout Jaylyn’s illness, it is how many people are traveling the same road as they are.
“It’s a lot more out there than you realize,” she says. “You don’t realize how many people you know who have childhood cancer.”