Mollie Wilder had always been a relatively healthy child, but at age 10 she started having headaches. No one really thought anything of it at first until the headaches worsened. Mollie’s parents, Renee and Scott, took her to the emergency room twice, but both times doctors concluded the headaches were just pre-puberty migraines. Not satisfied with that answer, Renee sought another opinion from Mollie’s pediatrician.
“Mollie had never had any signs of sickness or headaches and now all of a sudden she was suffering from debilitating headaches,” Renee said. “We knew it had to be something else.”
Mollie’s pediatrician requested an MRI and Renee took Mollie to the Children’s South Outpatient Surgery Center. “She hadn’t been gone from me 10 minutes before I had a nurse coming out to get me to sign a form allowing them to do another test and my phone was ringing and it was our pediatrician,” Renee said. “At that instance, I knew we weren’t just ruling out the ‘c’ word anymore.”
The MRI revealed a significant tumor sitting on Mollie’s brain stem, and it had already caused hydrocephalus, or fluid on the brain. She was immediately transported to Children’s of Alabama’s downtown campus. Before Mollie and Renee arrived, surgery had been scheduled for the very next day. “Originally they thought she would have surgery later on in the week, but the neurological team said she had too much fluid built up on her brain,” Renee said.
Surgery was the only option, but it was also risky. Doctors informed the Wilders that because the tumor was entwined in Mollie’s brain stem, she might not make it. Or, if she did, she could suffer serious impairments. “But we knew there was no way she could live with the tumor,” Renee said. “It was our only choice.”
After a 10-and-a-half hour surgery, Mollie’s neurosurgeon successfully removed about 96 percent of the malignant tumor. Originally, Mollie’s tumor was diagnosed as anaplastic ependymoma, a high-grade tumor that tends to be faster-growing. An aggressive treatment plan commenced, and after one round of chemotherapy, Mollie’s doctor, Dr. Greg Friedman, shared some unexpected but wonderful news. “The lab that did the testing on her tumor had misdiagnosed it,” Renee said. “It was actually medulloblastoma, which was obviously still cancer but easier to treat.”
Mollie continued treatment— including 30 radiation treatments and six cycles of chemo—and after about eight months, an MRI revealed she was officially cancer free. Now in ninth grade, Mollie still suffers from fatigue—a side effect of her treatment—but she’s back at school, taking piano lessons, and even playing on her school’s tennis team.
“She’s doing great,” Renee said. “She ended up having no side effects from the surgery. I can’t say enough about everyone at Children’s. They became our family. From the very first night when we were admitted, they didn’t just take care of her. They took care of our whole family. We wouldn’t be where we are today without everyone who was involved in Mollie’s treatment. They helped us get through it.”