Sue Kiesewetter reports:
Tammy Randall burst into tears when her granddaughter said the four words she’s waited months to hear.
“I’m a cancer survivor,” Yosselin Villatoro told her grandmother one day after school this month.
“I stood there and cried,” said Randall, who has custody of Yosselin and her 6-year-old brother Freddy.
“With all she’s been through and struggled with – to finally have her say that, well, all I can say is I’ve been waiting a long time to hear those words.”Fifteen months ago, just before Christmas 2011, Tammy and her husband, Keith, got the devastating news that their then-6-year-old granddaughter had osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer that started in the femur of her left leg and spread to her lungs.
Since then, Yosselin has undergone four surgeries – including one to remove 8 inches of her femur, replacing it with an expandable metal rod – to remove the cancer. Another operation is scheduled June 14 to lengthen the rod since Yosselin has grown 2.5 inches in the last year.
In December, doctors gave the Randalls the news they had been praying for since the ordeal began: Yosselin was in remission and if her now quarterly tests remain the same – her next scan will be done in June – she will be declared cancer free in five years.
“I told Yosselin, but I don’t think she really believed it until she said those words after she did a school report on Sally Ride,” Randall said. “Even though Sally died of cancer (in July), Yosselin recognized she had survived cancer.”
(Ride, a physicist, in 1983 became the first American woman astronaut to orbit the earth.)
“It’s breathtaking just to watch her grow into a beautiful young lady,” Randall said with tears in her eyes.
“She had her first sleepover at a friend’s house, and I was a nervous wreck. It was the first time she’s been away since the diagnosis.… It went well.”
Yosselin is now going to school most days, and the family is settling into a routine that doesn’t involve constant doctors’ visits and runs to the hospital every time Yosselin gets a cold or fever.
She still tires easily and frequently takes a nap after school. Her immune system is getting stronger, but, when she does get sick, it takes longer to recover and the illness tends to be more severe than before the cancer diagnosis.
Physical therapy that Yosselin is undergoing has strengthened her leg enough that she bears full weight on it. Yosselin uses her walker at Cherokee Elementary – where she is a second-grader – only as a safety precaution as her leg strengthens.
Classmate Savannah Evans is glad Yosselin is back in the classroom full time.
“My favorite part is spending time with her,” Savannah said. “She’s the kindest person in the whole world.”
Yosselin likes physical education and art classes and was excited to help her team win a race.
“In gym class I get to run and exercise my leg and that’s good,’’ Yosselin said. “We did a one-legged relay race – you gotta take big hops – and we had teams and my team won because of me. I’m the fastest hopper.”
For her eighth birthday, Yosselin invited her entire class, along with family and friends, to a birthday party that featured a live Candyland game set up in the family’s basement. It was quite different from her seventh birthday when there was no party as the family prepared for surgery to insert the rod into Yosselin’s leg.
For five weeks before the party Randall worked on re-creating the Candyland game board complete with Chocolate Mountain, Lollipop Woods, Snowflake Lake, Peanut Acres, King Candy and Peppermint Forest.
More than two dozen children turned out.
“I’m lucky, very, very, very lucky to have a birthday party with this many people,” Yosselin said.