Hearing that your child has cancer sends your world into a tailspin. Hearing that they have a lethal form of brain cancer that really has no treatment path is devastating. It’s the kind of thing people carry with them for the rest of their lives.
One form of brain cancer, DIPG, has been had very few treatment advances in decades. A big part of the reason for this is that so little is known about how the cancer develops and grows. Typically, biopsies are not performed because of the tumor’s brainstem location, and what scientists do learn is often from tissue taken after a child has passed away. That is an issue, too, because it is a difficult conversation for most medical practitioners to have with these already vulnerable families.
We reached out to a very generous family who donated their daughter’s tissue to research, and they agreed to share their story. We hope that it will inspire others to think about whole brain tissue donation.
Interview with Kindra Adams, mom to Addison
When did you first start thinking about donating Addison’s tissue?
Addison’s father and I knew from diagnosis that one way or another Addison would be tumor free. We learned more about tumor donation after a Facebook page for Katherine The Brave posted about it.
Yes, Katherine the Brave’s page is well known in childhood cancer circles. Did you discuss the donation with people in your family and friends?
Yes, we discussed it with family and friends. Everyone seemed very supportive of our decision. We were going to do it no matter what, but it helps to have everyone on board.
Do you wish you had known more about tissue donation sooner?
Yes, it seems like information on donation is pretty hard to find unless you know about it already. If it wasn’t for Katherine’s page, I’m not sure we would have known anything about it. I’m also not sure we would have been real receptive to it if someone approached us. That’s what makes it more difficult to get the information out there.
What were your biggest concerns around donating her tissue? My biggest concern was that it wouldn’t grow. That after it was removed and transported, that would just be the end. I really wanted it to survive and hopefully help someone. I know it might sound unusual, but I was also worried about how it would affect her appearance. We wanted to be able to have an open casket, and it was nice to know that the incision wouldn’t be visible.
As a mom of a child who died from brain cancer, I totally get that. I don’t think it is an uncommon concern at all. Parents want to protect their child in every way, and this is no exception. Who answered your questions about the process? Dr. Monje . We had been in contact prior to this because I was looking for clinical trials for Addison. When I finally sent her the e-mail about donation, she set up a time and called me. She explained everything, and we stayed in contact. Even to this day, I can send her an e-mail and see how everything is going.
Dr. Monje’s lab contributes data to the open access data platform called Cavatica. Although Dr. Monje’s lab commits to putting 75% of the tumor tissue they receive into this platform, it is possible that Addison would have been part of the 25% that did not get shared. You were able to verify with Dr. Monje that Addison’s tissue was indeed shared, though, which is really cool.
Did you know much specifically about what her tissue might be used for? Yes and no. I know at the time of our phone call, Dr. Monje gave me lots of information. Unfortunately, my memory retention hasn’t been the best lately.
Yes, memory retention is frequently a problem during the grieving process. I definitely had some issues with that, too. How does in make you feel knowing her tissue is in the open access database, Cavatica? Honestly, I’m thrilled that Addison can be a part of something this important. We have learned that Addison is in the 20% of DIPG kids that are lacking a particular mutation so that makes her part in Cavatica even more important.
As a parent who also has a child with data in Cavatica, I can say that it does give you some comfort to know that their tumor tissue may help save another child’s life one day.
Cavatica is the platform for data sharing that will be used to empower an upcoming DIPG trial being launched by the Pacific Pediatric Neuro Oncology Consortium. You can read more about that here.