Name: Bethany Stephens
Parents: Tracy Peck
Type of cancer: Wilms Tumor/ Kidney cancer
Tell me about the moment you find out about Bethany’s diagnosis?
Tracy: We first found out about Bethany’s diagnosis before she was six years old. It came up suddenly. For about three months, she had been battling these freakish fevers and strep throat that came out of the blue. Bethany’s belly had been hurting one morning and as I felt her stomach, there seemed to be something the size of a clementine orange under the skin. We proceeded to take her to the doctor but the bump wasn’t going away. After about a week of no progress, my husband and I took her to the pediatric ER at UK. We were new to Lexington, so this was all very intimidating. After a CT scan, the doctors told us that there was a ginormous tumor, as seen on the scan. It was Wilms Tumor which is Kidney cancer. Bethany’s right kidney ended up being all tumor and after looking further, she was diagnosed with Bilateral Wilms Tumor because tumors were present in both kidneys. However, the left kidney was a tiny tumor and so from the beginning, they were determined to keep the left kidney tumor from growing. Immediately, we dove into treatment with chemotherapy to help reduce any tumor growth.
Tell me about the hardest part of this experience?
Tracy: Not just cancer but sitting in the state of unknown. It doesn’t just affect the patient but the entire family. Everything about the future hangs in limbo and you have to learn to feel comfortable with living that way. For me, seeing Bethany at 5 or 6 years old and experience this huge change, was the hardest. Bethany doesn’t remember as much, but in my perspective, there’s a life before cancer and life after cancer. It really hit the adults, hard. It is not just the health but financially and it truly changes everything for a family.
You learn very quickly how to distinguish what is important in life. There has been a lot of great lessons you learn from it, but the biggest challenge is being comfortable with living in a constant state of you not knowing what is happening tomorrow, six months from now, or even a year from now.
You have to learn how to live your life and not let cancer, her diagnosis, her prognosis affect you but just live. It has definitely changed how I approach life in general.
Is there anything that has provided you comfort during this time with your treatment?
Tracy: All the doctors, nurses, and kids through DanceBlue. There is nothing more comforting than to know you have so much support on your side, so many people rooting for you, and help when you need it. It makes me emotional thinking about all DanceBlue has done to support us. We were new to Lexington, didn’t know anyone, and practically starting our lives over. Then, all of a sudden, when Bethany had been diagnosed, we felt as though we were welcomed and cuddled by the community. The community was here to help us get through it. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the United States; I don’t think we would have been treated as well anywhere else in the United States. It has just been a great experience all around.
How has DanceBlue impacted you?
Tracy: I understand you students are going to school and its a moment in your life, but we are still in contact with her first Adopt-a-Family team. They have graduated and moved on but we still keep in contact. It doesn’t leave you. We run into people in town and it is like seeing family. It just becomes a part of your life and is an extended family. Because of that emotional support, it is different than an acquaintance. These are lifelong people that you care about. To have complete strangers care for her and what she is going through is remarkable.
What DanceBlue programs have you participated in?
Bethany: This summer I attended Indian Summer Camp (Kids Cancer Alliance) and if it hadn’t been for DanceBlue, I wouldn’t have the amazing friends I have today. I wouldn’t be able to go to camp and probably know that the camp was even going on. We go bowling with our current Adopt-a-Family (Alpha Gamma Delta). Some are graduated and have moved out of town, but they come back to see us. We went to see Avengers: Infinity Wars on the opening night with them. DanceBlue has helped us meet them and get to know them and have all those fun experiences.
Tracy: We do the marathon and have continued to do that through the years. You’re always in touch, even in remission, you are just always a part of it. We do go to the family parties and it was about five years ago for the Halloween party, Bethany dressed as a clown and wore everyone out with the cake dance. She was relentless and kept making kids play it over and over again.
Bethany: It was punishment for them but reward for me. We got a lot of cake from that year!
What would you all like for the University of Kentucky campus to know about your family and what you all have experienced?
Tracy: I’ve been working here at UK for about three years, I work on campus but it made sense to work here because I’m already so tied to the university. To everything about it and for me I feel like a sense of giving back. As a family, we have received so much and it is more of a pay it forward thing. UK for us, the whole experience has been so awesome in that she is doing fabulous. After having cancer two times, she is still doing great because of UK and DanceBlue. All that support for our family has helped us really to live life, accept it, and move on. I give my thanks and share my gratitude. We’ve survived. Our whole family has become cancer survivors. I was so touched when Bethany was six years old and we spent a lot more time in the clinic. We would drive past the Ag. building that has a little pond. We would play a game; ducks in the lawn, pond, or neither. We would literally just guess and then pass the pond to see who wins. I remember like it was yesterday when driving by Bethany out of the blue just tells me, “You know why I like having cancer, because I get to play games all day and have fun all day.” To me that is so touching as a parent of her perspective. If a little kid can view cancer as fun and DanceBlue to completely distract her from what’s going on, then I need to look at the world in this way. There is always a way at looking at things.
Bethany: In the clinic, you have nothing better to do then sit and stare at a wall. You’re just sitting there and you’re getting chemo, but you don’t want to get chemo and I have nothing to do. But the DanceBlue volunteers come and give me something to do so I am not sitting there for four hours. Cancer is an awful thing but it gives you a lot of great traits. Never give up, see the world in a better way. No matter how bad something can be, there is always a good side to it.
To kids with cancer they know it’s awful but you get to have all these fun experiences. You get to be unique.