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Bright Futures

Articles and Updates from Phoenix Children's

September 06, 2023
Bethanie’s cancer journey: A story of resilience, courage and triumph over all
Bethanie in her electric toy car

Daniel and Stephanie Fournier vividly describe their 6-year-old daughter, Bethanie, as a bundle of energy, spunk and boundless happiness. With a heart as big as her smile, Bethanie’s sweet and caring nature shines through, capturing the hearts of all who meet her. What truly stands out is her bravery, a trait that has carried her through a courageous journey marked by numerous obstacles along the way, ultimately leading to her triumph over childhood cancer.

“She is the pillar of strength,” her parents said. “She never gives up.”

Bethanie’s journey began in October 2019, when she was just two and a half years old. Without warning, Stephanie and Daniel found their daughter not feeling well in the middle of the night.

“Bethanie could not stop vomiting, and it lasted into the early hours,” Stephanie said. “Adding to our worry, she stopped using one of her arms and avoided picking things up with it. Throughout the week, Bethanie was seen by her doctor, and each time, we were told she had an unknown viral infection.”

Bethanie’s condition worsened with each passing day. She would not eat, drink or play, and she was losing weight rapidly. In addition, she hardly had taken 10 steps in a week. Daniel and Stephanie’s worries increased as they watched her lose all inclination to enjoy anything – even her favorite TV show. Bethanie wouldn’t move from the couch or her bed, and her mother recalled, at one point, walking by the couch and hearing her whimper in pain. Bethanie had no fever or any indication that something was wrong other than she did not feel well.

At that point, the Fourniers knew they had to do something.

While Stephanie stayed at home with the couple’s two other children, Daniel took Bethanie to Phoenix Children's in Avondale – about an hour and 15 minutes from the family’s home – where the staff did a check-up on her. They needed to take her weight and blood pressure, but it was evident something was wrong when she could not stand on her own. They recommended she go to Phoenix Children’s Hospital – Thomas Campus where they had the equipment to do a full workup.

After running lab tests in the ER, the doctors found lymphoblastic cells in her blood. “I remember asking, ‘What does this mean exactly?,’ Daniel said. “The doctor couldn’t give us a diagnosis right there, so he told us that Bethanie would be admitted to the hospital. They needed to do a bone marrow biopsy to confirm her diagnosis. I immediately called my wife, who was at home with our two children. She made the long drive to the hospital to be with us during this uncertain time.”

“As a parent, you feel completely helpless in the situation because there is nothing you can do,” the Fourniers said. “Watching our 2-year-old child not able to take steps because of the pain she was in was just too hard to bear. She received morphine in the hospital because she was in so much pain. All that we could really do was show her that if we are strong enough to be there for her, then she will cultivate the strength within herself to bear anything she had to endure.”

An unexpected diagnosis

Following Bethanie’s blood transfusion and subsequent bone marrow biopsy, Dr. Alexandra Walsh, a pediatric oncologist at Phoenix Children’s and the director of the Survivorship Program for patients with leukemia and lymphoma, shared the harsh diagnosis concerning their daughter.

Bethanie in hospital bed

Bethanie was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), the most common type of leukemia in children. In ALL, the bone marrow makes too many abnormal lymphoblasts, a type of immature white blood cell. These abnormal cells crowd out healthy red and white blood cells and platelets in the blood and bone marrow, making it difficult for the body to fight infection and diseases. If left untreated, ALL can spread quickly to lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

“Dr. Walsh broke down our daughter’s leukemia type for us,” Stephanie said. “She also mentioned the cancer was present in Bethanie’s spinal fluid. She walked us through the available options and the initial stages of her treatment plan. The first step involved beginning induction, which meant having her port inserted and receiving a combination of IV and intrathecal chemo, coupled with high-dose steroids for the first 28 days. Bethanie was in the hospital for one week and continued her induction phase at home. She would undergo treatment for the next 2-and-a-half years.”

Bethanie’s treatment journey

Bethanie in treatment

Dr. Walsh treated Bethanie the first week she was admitted to Phoenix Children’s oncology unit, and Dr. Michael Henry, a pediatric oncologist and hematologist, then took over Bethanie’s care.

Bethanie began her intensive chemotherapy treatment on Oct. 28, 2019. The Fournier family’s life centered on countless hospital visits and chemo treatments. While Bethanie responded well to her treatments, the first month was tough due to the horrible side effects from the steroids that caused bouts of rage. Once the steroid phase was done, she was fine and back to her normal self. Bethanie started losing her hair due to the side effects of the chemotherapy.

“There were times when she felt miserable, but somehow she managed to be sweet and put on a smile, even through all of it,” Daniel said. “She showed her strength, which motivated the rest of us to be strong too. The child life specialists were wonderful. They walked in with a duffle bag filled with things to keep her busy and happy. They sat down with her, colored in books and hung out like buddies. The entire medical and child life team created such a loving atmosphere that gave her comfort. They paved the way for those moments of happiness even when things were tough.”

Bethanie’s leukemia journey saw its share of ups and downs, including fevers, prolonged hospital stays and a loss of weight that necessitated a feeding tube. Each challenge was met with a fierce determination to conquer and emerge stronger. She showed the world her warrior spirit.

Bethanie playing with her toy phone in hospital bed

Ringing the bell

On March 9, 2022, two and a half years after finishing chemotherapy, Bethanie’s moment of triumph arrived. The sound of the bell ringing echoed through the halls of Phoenix Children’s, signaling the end of her cancer treatment. With Dr. Henry, her dedicated oncologist, and her caring nurses by her side, Bethanie embodied the strength and courage that defined her journey with cancer.

“There were lots of tears – but this time tears of joy not sadness,” Stephanie recalled. “It felt like a ton of weight lifted off our shoulders. After a two-year wait, our daughter was finally cancer free. Seeing Dr. Henry and the nurses during the bell ringing was incredible. Dr. Henry is the most caring and compassionate physician that I’ve ever met, and I work in healthcare. He lit up every time he saw Bethanie, like she was his own. The whole team cared for not just Bethanie, but our entire family.”

Shortly after finishing chemo, Bethanie lost her hair again due to alopecia areata, an autoimmune reaction triggered by the chemo. Other than that, her parents shared that it’s a joy to see their daughter full of life and acting as a 6-year-old child should. She enjoys playing and rough housing with her siblings. As part of her ongoing care, she has routine checkups with Dr. Henry every two months.

Despite the challenges the Fournier family faced, they have a powerful message for other families navigating similar struggles: “Sometimes you have to take it hour by hour. Lean on your partner through these tough times. Our strengths and weaknesses balanced each other perfectly. By combining them, we got everything done and accepted help from others when we needed it.”

To learn more, visit Phoenix Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders.

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