HOUSTON - As we head into Childhood Cancer Awareness month, we introduce you to a young girl from Magnolia who has taken social media by storm with her cancer journey. She has now been in remission for six months, but wait until we share with you HOW she found out she had cancer.
9-year old Maelynn or Mae is well-known in the world of TikTok. More than 300,000 followers continually cheer her on, all while she's encouraging them. Mae's medical crisis began after an unusual accident while exercising in her PE class.
"The little boy had kicked her in the face and it swelled for a couple of days," explains Kelli Howell, Mae's mother. "Then I just figured it was like a normal injury, but then the tenderness didn't go away. I was like, 'this isn't right, something's wrong,' so I thought maybe it’s an abscess or an infection in her teeth."
That led them to a dentist and then an oral surgeon.
"He told us it was a cyst and not to worry about it for about a month or so," says Kelli.
"But I think we had to worry about it," says Mae. "It didn't hurt at all. I had no clue what it meant or I didn't even know what happened until my mom touched it and pushed on it. Didn't know there was anything there, it didn't hurt when I opened my mouth."
Their journey to figure out what was going on led them to Texas Children's Cancer Center and Dr. Sarah Whittle, a Pediatric Oncologist there. She's also an Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine.
"The tumor had been there and they didn't know because she didn't have any symptoms yet, probably symptoms would have developed over time, and I think the injury just led us right to the right to the tumor," says Dr. Whittle. "It’s an unfortunate injury, but fortunate in a way that we were able to find the tumor when we did."
Doctors believe if Mae hadn't been kicked in the face, there's a good chance her cancer could've advanced to late stage before being detected.
"Mae was diagnosed with something called alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, which is a type of cancer arising from the soft tissues or muscles," states Dr. Whittle.
Mae's tumor was in a complicated place in her jawbone and couldn't be surgically removed, so she underwent aggressive radiation and chemotherapy.
"When I was first diagnosed and heard I had cancer, I thought it was going to be super easy because I had no idea about it," says a serious Mae. "I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know anything about it, so I thought it was just going to be like one, two, but I was wrong."
Their faith, along with social media helped, after finding other families online, also dealing with childhood cancer.
"She met a really good friend who had medulla blastoma, which is a brain cancer," Kellie said. "We live in the same county and we got them together on Facebook Messenger and June would tell her things like, 'Radiation doesn't hurt. It just smells a little funny.' Our kids are going through the exact same treatments. It gives me goosebumps because you don't feel so alone, and it's weird that social media can be a good place too, it really can harbor some good support systems."
"It was 8-year-olds discussing proton radiation side effects and that to her meant , ‘I don't want anyone to feel alone, I don't want these kids to feel like that,’ so she let me "Momma-razi" her whole life," adds a smiling Kelli.
That means they're able to help other families and her positive attitude lasted throughout treatment.
"Mae was such a great patient! She came to the clinic every day with a smile on her face. Even when she was going through the toughest treatment, getting radiation every day for six weeks, needing lots of transfusions, she always had a really upbeat personality and a really good outlook and she was super motivated to finish her treatment," says Dr. Whittle.
Her doctor goes on to brag about how strong Mae was, coming up with creative ways to do her own physical therapy during the pandemic.
"One treatment gave her neuropathy where she couldn't move her hands well and they were stuck in a claw shape, most children will need physical therapy," states Dr. Whittle. "We tried to get her in for that, but based on timing with chemo, we just couldn't do it, so Mae did her own physical therapy by using fidgets and got her hands back to being completely normal. She was inspirational! She's a remarkable kid and it's so much fun to be her doctor."
Mae's family is relieved and happy about her bright future. She’ll be followed closely for a few years and as time goes by, she’ll undergo fewer scans and appointments.
For more information, click here.