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Mother hopes World Cancer Day inspires others to advocate for research, funding

Posted at 8:21 PM, Feb 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-04 20:21:36-05

AKRON, Ohio — World Cancer Day is dedicated to raising awareness of the disease while also encouraging prevention and treatment.

Amy Sabella also hopes it inspires people to advocate for additional research and funding specifically for childhood cancer.

In early 2018, Sabella and her husband, Jeff, became concerned about their 4-year-old daughter, Nora, because her belly suddenly became noticeably bigger.

She was taken to Akron Children's Hospital where doctors diagnosed her with a rare form of cancer called neuroblastoma.

"It's every parent's worst nightmare to hear those words, 'Your child has cancer,'" Amy Sabella said. "She has stage four high risk neuroblastoma on her right adrenal gland, so that's why her belly got so big."

Nora, who is now five-years-old, has endured a lot of difficult moments including several rounds of radiation, chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

During her treatment, she enjoys painting with an art therapist and watching Paw Patrol.

Sabella is amazed by Nora's ability to handle all of the challenges of cancer.

"She is my hero," Sabella said. "I mean, this kid was wonderful and sweet before this happened. She has always just been a kind-hearted child."

Dr. Jeffrey Hord, the director of hematology and oncology at Akron Children's, said 15,000 people under the age of 21 are diagnosed with some form of cancer yearly with an 85 percent cure rate. Across the world, that number of cases jumps to 300,000 with only a 65 percent cure rate.

"Childhood cancer is often one of the things that's overlooked because it is a very rare disorder," Hord said.

Hord stressed that people who want to do something to help kids with the disease should find a way to advocate.

"Statistics say that only about four new treatments out of the last 20 years were specifically approved by the FDA for children. Otherwise, we're using adult drugs and figuring out combinations," Hord said.

Sabella said research for other types of cancers that strike adults is also important, but feels funding is disproportionate.

"It's just four percent of all funding for cancer is what goes to children so we need to do better."

Sabella has been strengthened by her Boardman community which had donated thousands of dollars to help with medical expenses.

The plan is for Nora to go home on Saturday or Sunday with many outpatient visits in the future.

The family is also encouraged by Nora's latest scans which show she is clear from cancer.

However, Nora will be considered stage 4 for a while, possibly years, because the disease has a high risk of returning.

"She'll get followed for the rest of her life," Sabella said.