Meet Jada Dooley

Eleven-year-old Jada Dooley is a young woman who knows what she wants and isn’t shy about expressing it, says her mom. “A red-haired spitfire,” chuckles Jessica, proudly. That feisty spirit has helped sustain Jada through some rough times, and her mom believes it will serve her well for the rest of her life. “I’ve taught her to be an advocate for herself,” says Jessica, a nurse, who lives in Alma, Arkansas, with Jada and her younger brother, Ryan.

Jada is learning advocacy from example. Jessica knew something was wrong when the family was vacationing near the beach and Jada complained of not feeling well. "The beach is one of Jada’s favorite places to be," she explains, "and it was extremely unusual for her to not be enjoying herself there." As soon as they got home to Alma, Jessica started looking for what could possibly be wrong. When no clear answers emerged from repeated testing at their local clinic, she decided to take Jada to the emergency room of Arkansas Children’s in Little Rock. Within hours, she says, they had a preliminary diagnosis: Jada had leukemia, soon to be confirmed as acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Jessica says everything changed in an instant. “The nurse in charge told me, 'your life is going to change fast,' and she was right." They didn’t wait around to begin treatment.” The staff at Arkansas Children’s did everything possible to prepare the family for the hard fight ahead, she says.

“They were wonderful. It seemed like every five seconds, someone was coming into our room, talking to Jada, talking to me. It was 10 days before her 10th birthday, and she didn’t know what was going on. I was thinking, my child was 100 percent healthy until now--this is not happening.”

Jessica credits their caseworker, Jennifer, and nursing staff with taking care of her needs as much as Jada's. “They treated us beautifully. They know how to talk to parents and kids. That makes a huge difference.” She is also grateful for the practical details that Arkansas Children’s takes into account, such as parent meals, toiletries, and laundry. “Those things seem small, but they’re a really big deal.”

Jada began chemotherapy treatment immediately. For various reasons, she was at high risk for complications and didn’t always respond well. Dosages had to be lowered, prolonging her treatment, which is due to officially end in November 2019, though she will need to receive spinal chemo every four months for a year after. In the meantime, she is now in the maintenance phase and Jessica hopes the worst of the battle is behind them. Jada has been cleared to return to school, after missing fifth grade entirely and almost all of sixth grade. For this straight-A student, who dreams of being an artist and a marine biologist, it was very hard to miss class time. But Jessica says it will take more than cancer to hold her spitfire back. “Jada is super smart, a straight A-student. She’s just amazing.”

She says they couldn’t ask for a better oncologist than Dr. Becton, and that he and Jada “are like two peas in a pod.” Dr. Saylors is another star player on Jada’s team. “He needs a cloning machine because he’s so wonderful,” says Jessica.

Now that Jada is in the maintenance phase, and only needs to travel to Little Rock monthly for IV chemo, Jessica especially appreciates the proximity of Arkansas Children's Northwest for her weekly treatments. “I tell all my friends to take their kids there. It’s completely and 100 per cent worth it. They know how to take care of children.”

Jessica says she plans to have an amazing end of treatment party for Jada, and is looking forward to getting her back to her beloved beach. She’s also thinking about other parents who may soon be in the situation she had to face, and is working on developing a “care package” of information designed to help parents navigate the fear and confusion surrounding life after their child is discharged. Jada, she says, also has a perspective to share that could make her a great mentor to younger cancer patients in the future. “We always discuss giving back when we get through this, because we’ve been blessed so much by Arkansas Children's.”

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