ANKENY, Iowa — Having a child with cancer brings many unknowns for a family. For one 6-year-old, the cancer diagnosis was just the beginning of her complex medical journey.
McKenna Riebkes loves making memories with her family of four, and she is ready to make more. Mom Jaime Riebkes asked, “What are you looking forward to in kindergarten?”
McKenna replied, “Math.”
Starting school is a big milestone for the smart and funny girl. “We`ve seen McKenna at her lowest, and we didn`t know she’d go to kindergarten.”
McKenna was diagnosed with stage three neuroblastoma three years ago. “She had five rounds of chemo, she had a 15-hour tumor resection on August 23rd, 2016. The surgeon came out and said he did get it all, but any slice he made could have killed her on the table,” said Jaime.
Two stem cell transplants in Minneapolis followed, along with radiation. A complication from the second stem cell transplant spiraled into chronic kidney disease. Jaime said, “We couldn`t do the last part of her neuroblastoma treatment because it was so harsh on her kidneys. We didn`t want to damage those anymore.”
During that time, she had seizure-like episodes, brain swelling, and blood pressure that would be considered high for an adult. “We`ve had some really scary times. There`s a couple times where Addison and I didn`t know if she would come out of what she was in.”
Dad Addison Riebkes said, “As far as cancer diagnosis and intense treatment, we feel like we are past that for now. Nothing is guaranteed, and they`ve told us before relapse is a definite possibility.”
McKenna still has to take plenty of medicine, most of which is to control blood pressure. She is also fed by a tube. Her mom blends the five feedings a day. “She`ll have this cute little backpack. Each feeding takes about an hour.”
McKenna still gets cancer check-ups every six months, along with treatment for her kidney disease. “We`re hoping at some point she`ll get a transplant. At some point we`re hoping that stays a viable kidney for her, but we`re just always grateful she`s been so strong. Because she`s had to be,” said Jaime.
Addison said, “Through all that pain and struggle, it doesn`t happen to everybody, but there can be positive outcomes,” he said.
McKenna must be five years post cancer treatment before she will be considered for a kidney transplant. She’s still has a few years to go.
This is part of a September series for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. You can see the other stories here.