Faces of Cancer: Pasco girl, 2, fights with winning smile

By Andy Perdue, Tri-City HeraldOctober 18, 2011 

— If her beautiful smile could defeat cancer as easily as it disarms everyone she meets, Olivia DeCoria of Pasco would have the same concerns as any other 2-year-old.

Behind the perpetual happiness is a fierce little warrior who has yet to be given a fair shake in life.

The daughter of Julie and Brandon DeCoria was born with a rare chromosome disorder called "13Q deletion."

Experts at Children's Hospital in Seattle see perhaps a dozen of these cases per year from throughout the Northwest. Often, children with the disorder have difficulty walking or talking until they are 6 to 8 years old, and while Olivia has been slightly behind developmentally, she has pretty well kept up with her peers, said her mom, Julie.

Basically, she is missing 200 genes, some of which protect against certain types of cancer. One of those is retinoblastoma, a cancer that attacks the retina. Because she is vulnerable, Olivia has been examined every few months. As recently as May, she had no issues.

But Sept. 19, doctors confirmed she had retinoblastoma in her left eye -- and it was already stage 4.

"It's all happened really, really fast," Julie said. "It's turned our whole family upside down. I'd like to say we were prepared, but it all happened so fast. There are no words when something like this happens."

By the time it was discovered, the cancer was pressing against Olivia's optic nerve, and her eye needed to go before the cancer spread. On Sept. 27, Olivia's eye was surgically removed. She will be fitted with a prosthetic eye next month, the day before Thanksgiving.

Through it all, Olivia smiles. And through those smiles, she lifts everyone else's spirits.

"She's so happy all the time," Julie said. "She's really a happy child."

The road ahead will not be easy for the DeCorias. Olivia will need to undergo examinations every six weeks for the next 18 months, then every three months after that. Because 13Q also affects the vocal cords, Olivia was on oxygen for much of her life. Now, she endures botox treatments every two to three months to help her breathe normally.

"Every time she has to go through something horrible, she smiles through it," Julie said. "She just perseveres. It makes it that much more bearable."

Meanwhile, Olivia's family, church and community have rallied.

"It's been pretty amazing," Julie said. "You never know how loved you really are until something like this happens. It helped me restore my faith in people."

Fundraisers in the Tri-Cities and in Julie's hometown in southern Utah also have helped the family. And Country Mercantile north of Pasco is playing host to "Olivia's Day" on Saturday.

Activities will include face painting, free eye exams and more. All proceeds from vendors will go to help Olivia and her family pay for mounting medical bills.

"It's amazing to see people pull together," Julie said.

-- Andy Perdue: 509-582-1405; aperdue@tricityherald.com

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