Roosevelt teen treated for rare cancer at UMC Children’s Hospital

Published: Sep. 21, 2022 at 6:16 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 21, 2022 at 10:54 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - One year after a cancer diagnosis that only a handful of people get, 13-year-old Emma Gast is making less frequent visits to UMC Children’s Hospital, where she found care for the rare disease.

“It was usually when I was running. I would feel a really sharp pain down my shoulder blade, up into my neck and then it would just be hard to breathe,” Emma said.

The 8th grader had just joined the Roosevelt Cross Country team and thought the intense sport was the cause of the pain.

“I remember she didn’t want to run cross country, so I had to visit with her and her mom,” Coach Kim Clemmons said. “She was there maybe a few days a week and started having some kind of chest pains. Mom took her to the doctor, and it kind of just escalated so quickly.”

Her mom, Lacey, believes if it wasn’t for Coach Clemmons’ encouragement to join the team, the discovery of Emma’s cancer may not have happened as soon as it did.

The Gast family sought answers to Emma’s pain from their pediatrician, Dr. Tammy Camp.

“We went and just had a quick X-ray at UMC,” Aaron Gast, Emma’s dad, said. “They were able to find a fist-size tumor in her chest, which restricted her airway a little bit. That’s what started everything and then it just went downhill from there.”

Dr. Kishor Bhende is Emma’s pediatric oncologist at the UMC Cancer Center. He said further testing showed the cancer was primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma.

“In the United States, there are somewhere between 8,000 to 12,000 children from the age of birth to 18 that are diagnosed with cancer,” Bhende said. “Out of that, the diagnosis, what Emma has, every year probably about less than 20 children get diagnosed with this, which is very, very rare.”

While she said she was terrified of what was to come, Lacey told KCBD they decided to trust the advice from Dr. Camp to stay at UMC Children’s Hospital for treatment.

“She encouraged us to stay in Lubbock at UMC because they’re part of a national oncology group,” Lacey said. “They follow the same roadmap, same procedures, same medications, we would have just been further away from home. She encouraged us to stay here with our support system and we trusted her to do that. [Emma] started her chemo almost immediately and she did five days of chemo. She was at the hospital for six days and then we came home for 14 days. Then we started the process all over again for six cycles so it was pretty intense. There was a lot of ER visits and doctor’s visits in between.”

Emma said it was hard to be at the hospital so much for the treatments but she was helped through it by doctors, nurses and staff.

“They were very supportive and just encouraging through it all, and really helped me get through it, especially the child life specialists,” Emma said.

Dr. Behnde said the treatments for such an aggressive cancer are intensive and toxic and sometimes life threatening so it was important for the Gast family to be together. Having the ability to find such care near their home was a plus.

“They get treated near their home,” Dr. Behnde said. “It would be a difficult situation in a case where they have to go somewhere else. They would to travel a long distance and treatments are long and complicated, which can be very difficult situation for the family. We are very proud of the services what we provide and what we can do for these children with the help of the hospital and the Children’s Miracle Network, which provides us support.”

Because of the Children’s Miracle Network, which funds services like child life specialists and the Ronald McDonald room at UMC Children’s Hospital, Emma and her parents said they were able to feel a sense of normalcy in the hospital environment.

“I’m so grateful that [Dr. Camp] encouraged us to stay in Lubbock and we got the care exactly what Emma needed and what we needed,” Lacey said.

Dr. Behnde said Emma is in remission and will do well long-term.

“Thank you for your donations and support,” Emma said. “This really helps children like me and without this hospital I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

To donate to the Children’s Miracle Network at UMC Children’s Hospital, click here.