One-year-old warrior Tessa Hodgson, of Ottawa, Canada, has been battling cancer since she was just 3 months old. However, on Aug. 5, she celebrated her first birthday in grand style, with balloons and a pink princess dress; and most importantly she wore a beaming smile.
“Tessa is one year old today!” her mom, Rachel Pascas, posted on Facebook. “We are so proud of this warrior; she’s been through so much and she’s stronger than ever!”
On achieving this milestone, Tessa’s parents couldn’t be more elated, as the little “fighter” has had to face so much in the course of her first year of life. In an email interview with The Epoch Times, Rachel shared her brave-hearted girl’s journey so far.
Rachel said that she and her husband, Rob Hodgson, were “elated” to discover they were pregnant with Tessa back in 2018. Rachel had suffered a miscarriage a few months previously, but her trepidation about carrying another baby was far outweighed by excitement.
Baby Tessa was born on Aug. 5, 2019, and all seemed well for the first three months of her life. Then, one day, in November Tessa began vomiting. “I was so worried she would become dehydrated that I brought her to the hospital,” Rachel recalled. “I thought it was acid reflux.”
The family spent the day in the emergency room. An ultrasound and a followup CT scan reaped a devastating result; Tessa had a 6-by-5-centimeter tumor on the left parietal lobe of her brain.
While crediting their physician, Dr. Ritchie, for saving Tessa’s life, Rachel admitted, “We were broken.”
Tessa is one year old today! We are so proud of this warrior; she’s been through so much and she’s stronger than ever!…
Rachel is a registered neurosurgical nurse at the Ottawa Hospital for adults, so hearing her daughter’s diagnosis hit especially hard and left the mom of two “devastated” and “terrified.”
“I know too much,” she explained. “I honestly thought it was a sick joke at first.”
Tessa underwent her first 12-hour brain surgery to remove the tumor. A shunt was placed weeks later to help remove excess fluid before three rounds of induction chemotherapy in Ottawa and three rounds of intensive chemotherapy and stem cell transplants in Toronto.
The baby girl also had two small surgeries in mid-August 2020, one of which inserted a new feeding tube into Tessa’s stomach, and a bigger surgery on Aug. 25 to remove a cancerous lump under her right arm.
Explaining Tessa’s official diagnosis further, Rachel said that atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumors (ATRT) are characterized by recurrent tumors, the symptoms of which include weakness in Tessa’s right arm and hand and compromised vision in her right eye.
The baby girl has also been late reaching her developmental milestones, Rachel shared, largely due to spending so much time in hospital.
Trials and Triumphs
Looking back on the journey so far in being Tessa’s mother, Rachel shares the biggest challenge for her lies in separating her roles as nurse and mother and mediating the guilt she feels for giving her baby girl more attention than Tessa’s older sister, Rylee.
However, Tessa’s sweet temperament, said the mom of two, makes it easy to focus on the positives. Despite needing a number of medications to control chronic pain, Tessa is “the happiest baby you will ever meet.” Rachel and Rob both describe their daughter as an old soul, who is able to bear her lot in life and find joy despite the hardship that engulfs her.
“Tessa is truly an angel on earth,” said Rachel. “She is the strongest warrior; her smile keeps me strong!”
Meanwhile, throwing a joyful first birthday party for their courageous little girl was a respite for parents Rachel and Rob, and a reminder for the whole family of what prevails when times get tough.
Alluding to the special moment, Rachel said: “I was so happy for Tessa to have conquered her first grueling year.” She further continued, “but also worried about how many more birthdays Tessa has to celebrate […]She has been through more in one year than most people have to go through in a lifetime.”
“One Day at a Time”
When The Epoch Times asked Rachel about what the couple’s philosophy on staying strong is, she said: “Rob and I promised ourselves[…] that this would not tear us apart, but it would bring us together and make us stronger.”
She further added: “I’d say our philosophy is, ‘One day at a time,’ and, ‘Think positively!’ God has a plan!”
Additionally, the parents have also received an outpouring of support from people around the world as they continue to share Tessa’s journey online. Rachel admitted not knowing quite how her family would have coped without the love and support gleaned from their online community.
“We are overwhelmed,” she said. “People are incredible!”
The couple has also taken the opportunity to create awareness of childhood cancer and let cancer families know that they aren’t alone in this battle.
As for the brave little Tessa, at the time of writing, she is undergoing radiation treatment.
“Please continue to pray with us,” Rachel posted on the Facebook page where she documents Tessa’s journey. “The doctors say this radiation is not curative, but we are fully believing in a miracle!”
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