Who: When Danielle Rachko looks at her 23-month-old daughter, Renee, she sees a curious, bright girl who loves to explore and try to do whatever big sister Nora Jean does, even if she’s not quite big enough yet. The toddler — who lives in Scranton with her mom, dad William and 6-year-old sister — enjoys cuddling and has an affinity for peek-a-boo and climbing, which keeps her family on its toes as they try to keep things out of her young reach.
What: After Renee started seeming off-balance and unusually clumsy in September, her parents took her to the doctor, where they expected to find out she had an ear infection. Instead, they learned Renee had a medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor. This type of malignancy, considered an embryonic tumor, develops in the cerebellum — which controls balance, muscle movement and emotion — and is fatal without treatment
Renee underwent emergency surgery at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia the day after her diagnosis, during which doctors removed all of the tumor, and she has remained a patient there. She will continue chemotherapy cycles for about five or six months and will need to be hospitalized for two to three weeks, or more, per cycle. Renee will follow that with intense inpatient rehabilitation to work on her large and small motor functions as well as speech therapy so she can learn how to speak again.
Doctors estimate that Renee has a medium to high risk of the cancer recurring. As she moves beyond treatment, doctors will continue to check her to make sure the cancer does not return, which will include undergoing several MRIs each year for several years.
Why: When the family learned of Renee’s cancer, her mother said, “our lives as we knew it stopped.” They quickly packed, arranged for someone to care for their pets and headed to Philadelphia, where they have remained by Renee’s side ever since. While Danielle Rachko can to work remotely and Nora Jean can attend school virtually, the sisters cannot see each other because of coronavirus restrictions, and their parents must take turns caring for each of them. Meanwhile, organizations that help families of hospitalized children with lodging are not letting siblings of those kids stay at their facilities, Danielle Rachko said, so families like hers can’t use those resources. Because they want to keep their family together in Philadelphia while Renee is at CHOP, the Rachkos have had to stay in hotels, apartments and Airbnb rentals— all more expensive alternatives. The family is grateful, though, for the financial support others have offered to cover medical expenses and help them stay with Renee during treatment.
How: To donate, visit the GoFundMe page, “Renee Needs Chemo After Removal of Brain Tumor,” or mail contributions to the Rachko family at 811 S. Irving Ave., Scranton, PA 18505. People also can buy gifts for Renee or $5 meal vouchers that her family can use while staying with her in the hospital by calling the CHOP gift shop at 877-887-3200 or visiting hospitalgiftshop.com.
In her own words: “We can never thank anyone enough for all of the prayers and positive thoughts being sent to Renee to help her get better. Words can also never thank anyone enough for any help with covering the expenses of medical bills, lodging and food. Any amount of help means that we have one less thing to worry about and helps to keep our family together and stay by Renee’s side while she goes through her treatments to hopefully get better.” — Danielle Rachko, mother
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest