Clara Woodward seems like a happy, normal 2-year-old who loves playing with her older sister and three older brothers.
It's a blessing for her parents, Brian and Natasha Woodward, who just two months ago saw their youngest child stuck lying in bed, constantly in pain.
But it's a new normal for the Pasco toddler who was diagnosed May 23 with high-risk, stage 4 neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer that requires multiple rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, surgery and stem cell replacement therapy.
"The first week we were in the hospital, she did not walk. ... Now she's at a point where she doesn't have any pain medication," her father said. "Other than not having any hair and being cross-eyed, you wouldn't know she wasn't a normal child. ... She seems like she's a very happy girl."
Clara has been at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane since her mother and grandmother rushed her to the pediatric emergency room there one night when she stopped walking.
Clara hadn't been feeling well since April, when she got a low-grade fever that wouldn't go away. Then she started to limp, had joint pain and was just generally agitated and not feeling well, Brian Woodward said.
"Every time we'd lay her down to change her diaper, when we lifted her legs, she cried out in pain," he said.
They went to five different doctors and got five different diagnoses, but none of the medications she was prescribed helped her, Woodward said. But as soon as doctors saw her at Sacred Heart, they knew something was seriously wrong, he said.
The next day, the Woodwards learned Clara had a tumor on her optic nerve that was affecting her sinus. After getting an MRI, CT scan and a whole work-up of tests, they found out Clara had tumors "from head to toe and from fingertip to fingertip," Woodward said.
"It started on her adrenal gland (on her right kidney) and it's basically in every bone of her body right now," he said.
Clara is two months into a one-year treatment plan and is expected to start her fourth round of chemotherapy Thursday, Woodward said.
So far, there's been no progress with the tumors shrinking -- but they also aren't growing and no new ones have been found.
"Because there's so few cases, basically every case is a new clinical trial and the doctors are learning. It seems like every test they've taken of her comes up with surprises -- stuff they've never seen before," he said. "... But, we know something positive has to be happening because she's a different child. She's virtually pain free."
Clara will need surgery to remove the tumor on her adrenal gland. She has lost vision in her right eye, but it's too risky to try to remove the tumor on the optic nerve, so Woodward said doctors are hoping the radiation and chemo will shrink it. She also will need surgery on her left eye that's become crossed.
By fall, she could be off to Children's Hospital in Seattle for two or three months of stem cell replacement treatment, and then it's back to Spokane, probably until next summer for immunotherapy.
While Clara works to fight the cancer, her family makes the cross-state moves with her. Just this past weekend, the Woodwards -- Brian is 34 and Natasha is 32 -- moved the entire family into a basement apartment at a friend's home.
That means all seven of them -- in addition to Clara, they have three boys ages 10, 8, 6, and a 4-year-old daughter -- are living in cramped quarters, but Woodward said it's what the family needs.
"We felt like we all needed to be together for emotional and physical support," he said. "Even though you go from four bedrooms and plenty of space down to one, it certainly is better to be together and cramped than apart and have your space."
Woodward will continue to commute to work part-time at Oakdell Egg Farm when Clara's not in the hospital.
He does have insurance and is hoping that charitable donations and grants through the hospital will cover most of Clara's medical expenses, which could be as high as $5 million for the year, he said. But the out-of-pocket expenses for travel and other incidentals add up quickly, he said.
Woodward said his family's faith -- they're members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- and "angel friends" are helping them get through this challenging time.
"Our faith plays a large role in that -- knowing that God has a plan for us," he said. "We can't change God's will, but we can try to understand and ask for strength to overcome the trials and everything else."
How to help:
Get your car washed Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Java Jet, 5225 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick.All proceeds go to Clara Woodward and her family.
Donations can also be made in Clara’s name at any Sterling Savings Bank.
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org