Child’s perseverance inspires a mom

Name: Ciera
Age at diagnosis: 4 years
Diagnosis: Astrocytoma
How Family Reach helped: Grant to pay the phone and electric bills and cover basic household items

In late 2004, while walking to catch a bus, Ciera Highsmith suddenly let go of her mother’s hand and started speaking incoherently. She became stiff and her eyes rolled back in her head—the first of several seizures. Soon after, a medical evaluation revealed that the seizures were caused by a brain tumor the size of a baseball. Her mom, Sarah, was a single mother in her early twenties and was overwhelmed when 4 year-old Ciera was diagnosed with astrocytoma, a form of brain cancer. “It was scary for me because I was young,” Sarah said. “I didn’t have anyone in my corner with me. I didn’t have a shoulder to cry on.” Over the next several years, Ciera had multiple surgeries and was frequently hospitalized due to complications and infections. In early 2010, Ciera received radiation treatment followed by chemotherapy. At first, it was difficult for Ciera to adjust to the treatment. “It was a fight for her,” said Sarah. Over time, Ciera acclimated to the environment and accepted the treatment protocol. Naomi Rosenholtz, a pediatric oncology social worker at the Valerie Center, credits Sarah with her daughter’s adjustment. “Her mom is so accepting of her and accepting of who she is, and that has helped her,” said Naomi.

Against all odds, Sarah completed her high school education at home after Ciera’s diagnosis. She had to put off plans to become a Certified Nurse Assistant and was unable to work due to the demands of helping her daughter battle cancer. The family was forced to live on a subsistence income and struggled to make ends meet. Sarah fell behind on phone and utility bills, which resulted in their phone being shut off. Given Ciera’s medical condition, a working phone was an absolute necessity. Family Reach provided a grant to pay the phone and electric bills and offered funds for some basic household items. Ciera’s mom was deeply grateful for the grant from Family Reach. “I was overwhelmed with joy!” she said. “I was happy! I was amazed that I was getting some help with bills that I was behind on! I was very appreciative. It really did help me and my family out.”

Today, Ciera is back at school and loves to paint and do arts and crafts. Ciera’s perseverance and resilience in the face of illness are sources of inspiration for Sarah. “She is a miracle,” Sarah said. “She has inspired me. Being an adult, I don’t think I could have handled it as well.”

Last update: July 31, 2014