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By Catherine Cary
Genevieve Metcalf is no ordinary 3-year-old girl. She loves dinosaurs, lizards and superheroes. Little did anyone know, her favorite superheroes are not the only fighters.
Genevieve is a curious and rambunctious girl who loves to climb and play in the dirt. She always has a ton of energy and never stops moving.
“Sleeping and eating are the last things on her mind,” Sarah Metcalf, mother of Genevieve, said.
As normal as she seemed, no one could have foreseen the way her life would turn upside down.
Nov. 15, 2013, marks the day that Genevieve received the power to fight. On that day, Darren and Sarah Metcalf received the news no parent ever wants to hear: Their little girl had cancer.
Prior to receiving this shocking news, Metcalf noticed a lump on Genevieve’s tailbone while they were working on potty training. She immediately e-mailed Genevieve’s pediatrician, William Craft, to get more information about the lump. Dr. Craft responded, informing Metcalf that the lump might be a hemangioma.
When Metcalf brought her daughter to Dr. Craft he still believed it was a hemangioma, but to be on the safe side, he suggested that Genevieve receive an ultrasound.
The Metcalfs ventured to Roanoke Memorial Hospital to receive an ultrasound, only to hear that Genevieve needed an MRI.
Metcalf was very worried about her 3-year-old daughter, as any mother would be. Not knowing why Genevieve needed an MRI, Metcalf e-mailed Dr. Craft to ask about the results of the ultrasound. Evidence showed that the lump on her tailbone was believed to be a sacrococcygeal teratoma.
According to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s website, sacrococcygeal teratoma is a tumor that forms at the end of the tailbone. It is extremely rare, especially in young children.
Dr. Craft informed Metcalf that the tumor would require surgery. He recommended that Metcalf take Genevieve to the University of Virginia where a surgeon had seen her previously.
The MRI confirmed that Genevieve had a sacrococcygeal teratoma.
A week later, Genevieve went back to UVA for surgery. During the surgery, the tumor was removed as well as the tailbone to prevent the tumor from returning.
The Metcalfs patiently waited while their daughter underwent surgery.
Genevieve’s surgery, expected to take two hours, actually took four hours to complete. Immediately after surgery, a pathologist examined the tumor.
The Metcalfs anxiously awaited news from the surgeon. They received a phone call from the surgeon with news that the surgeon wanted to meet with them. The surgeon led the Metcalfs to a room and quietly shut the door behind them.
The Metcalfs were told there were malignant cells in the tumor, and that Genevieve had been diagnosed with stage two germ cell cancer.
“[The news] that they found malignant cells was the worst thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It was devastating,” Metcalf said.
Both in disbelief, the Metcalfs started crying out of worry for their precious daughter. They had many questions for the surgeon about what would happen next.
“[The next morning], I woke up. I don’t know what it was, but I was in fight mode. I told Darren, ‘Listen, yesterday was the worst day of our lives. It is never going to get worse than that. There will be some bumps in the road. She will be sick, but no matter how bad it gets, [yesterday] will be the worse day of our lives.’ That is how it has been ever since,” Metcalf said.
The Metcalf family was forced to make some major changes to their lifestyle. Aside from trips to the doctor’s office and chemotherapy, the Metcalfs would have to make sure Genevieve stayed away from as many germs as possible.
Playing in the dirt and going to her babysitter were the only things Genevieve had ever known, until now. She would be making huge changes to her daily routine, without even knowing why.
“At 3 1/2, she is old enough to question why this is happening. She was not sick. She was not symptomatic. A knot on her buttocks was symptomatic, but she never felt anything. I can’t say to her, ‘We are making you better,’ because she never felt sick.” Metcalf said.
According to Metcalf, Genevieve is adjusting well to everything. Genevieve has been kept isolated at her home to avoid the risk of coming into contact with germs, but this has not affected her ability to play and have fun like any other child her age.
During her first visit to UVA for chemotherapy, she got to see and play with a couple of children that were there for treatment as well.
“[The children] showed each other their ports. One of them didn’t have any hair, so [Genevieve] was feeling his head. They made a Christmas tree together out of pom-poms and played with cars,” Metcalf said.
At 3 years old, Genevieve has cancer, but she still continues to live her life as if nothing is wrong. According to Metcalf, she is still her normal, rambunctious self, just a little more tired. She is a fighter.
Not only does Genevieve have an enormous amount of strength to fight the battle of cancer, but her parents are also fighting their own battles.
Before Genevieve was diagnosed with cancer, Darren Metcalf, Genevieve’s father, was diagnosed with an infection on his brain stem. This infection is extremely rare and has affected his ability to see and move. With intensive rehabilitation, he has made progress in recovery, but is still unable to work.
“It is not that we did anything right or anything wrong, stuff just happens. It just so happens that two very strange things happened at the same time, but we are dealing with it. We are trying to stay positive,” Metcalf said.
As a result of Darren’s infection, Metcalf has been covered under the Family Medical Leave Act to take care of Darren and Genevieve.
Darren receives short-term disability payments, but these equate to far less income than if he were able to work full-time. Metcalf is receiving some income as well, but they were still unsure of how they were going to manage their finances. One day they received some help.
Metcalf’s college roommate, Shelley Cook, started a fundraising website in honor of Genevieve. On the website, people can donate money and share the page on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter. To date, the website has raised $15,175.
In addition to the fundraising website, Goodview Elementary School, where Metcalf teaches second grade, hosted Mittens for Metcalf, an event in which students were sent home with an envelope to collect money from family members and friends to bring back to school.
Debbie Hayter, a third grade teacher at Goodview, created a competition in her classroom to raise more money. The student that raised the most money won a cookie or ice cream of their choice from the cafeteria.
“My class alone raised $550,” Hayter said.
At Goodview, they hosted a walk. It was planned to be outside, but due to weather, the faculty and students walked through the hallways and gymnasium.
In total, Goodview raised $9,000 to help the Metcalf family. A local business, who wished to remain anonymous, also donated $10,000 the same day.
With the support of Metcalf’s co-workers, family and friends, she is able to take care of her family without having to worry about finances.
“Not only is it extremely generous, nice, wonderful and loving, but they have also saved our family from a lot of hardship. All of the support and love is just so heartwarming and overwhelming. I don’t even have words for it,” Metcalf said.
Genevieve will receive two more rounds of chemotherapy. After the third round, the doctors will do blood work to see if she is in remission. In the meantime, the Metcalfs will continue to fight just like Genevieve’s favorite superheroes would.