In the span of 14 days, 13-month-old Mavis Dumas went from being what one would describe as a totally normal child to one who wasn’t sleeping, was showing signs of possible constipation, and was screaming with little that would console her. During this time, Mavis’s parents brought her to multiple ER visits and pediatrician appointments, searching for answers. The doctors originally diagnosed Mavis with constipation, but in that time, things only became worse, and Mavis stopped walking.
Navigating the Diagnosis
“On our third time to the ER, [Mavis] was not walking, and she was screaming in pain, and they admitted us. They did an MRI the next day, and that was when we found out that she had multiple lesions along her spine. One of them was so large that it had eaten away one of the discs in her back and started to collapse one of her vertebrae. So pretty much for two weeks, she just had a broken back that we didn’t know about,” explains Mavis’s mom, Allison Dumas. “They did a CAT scan that showed she had nodules in both of her lungs, and she had a very large tumor at the base of her tailbone.”
Two days later, Mavis and her parents were flown to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital because Mavis was diagnosed with stage four metastatic yolk sac carcinoma. According to the National Cancer Institute, yolk sac tumors are a rare type of cancer that begin in germ cells, and they are the most common malignant germ cell tumor in children.
Upon arriving at St. Jude, Mavis underwent immediate surgery to preserve her legs. They completed a spinal decompression and removed almost 80 percent of one of the tumors in her back. After the surgery, Mavis wore a back brace to help her back fuse together, and over time, she started to regain some of her leg functions and control of her bladder functions.
All of this was occurring during a time when COVID restrictions were still in place, making it difficult for family members to be there in support or lend a helping hand when needed. Mavis’s grandparents, especially, felt helpless.
“There was nothing we could do. We couldn’t help, we couldn’t be there. We couldn’t support the kids. I wanted to just go to Tennessee and hang out in a hotel and just be there. It was a real traumatic time,” says Debbie Dumas, Mavis’s grandmother.
Penny Lambert, Mavis’s other grandmother, also describes the experience as a time she felt the most helpless. “I’ve just never experienced anything like that. I’m one of those who is always going to be there and do, and it was the most helpless I’ve ever felt in my life,” she says.
A Positive Light
Thankfully, this type of cancer responds well to chemo, Allison shares, and during Mavis’s time at St. Jude, she completed four rounds of chemo, each being five day cycles. Mavis has since been in remission for two years this May. She’s running, jumping, and finally getting to spend time with her grandparents, who all adore her.
“She’s a special child. We babysit, and we love having her here all the time. I think she’s just as happy to see me as I am to see her. When I was younger everyone would say, ‘oh, a grandpa? I don’t want to be a grandpa,’ but I love being a grandpa,” says Everette Lambert, her grandfather.
Penny agrees with the feeling, adding, “It’s the top of the world. When [I] see that little girl, my whole inside just lights up. I mean, it’s just the most beautiful feeling in the world, to have a grandchild put their arms around you, and to spend time with them, and that’s what I like to do. I’ve gotten to where I do experiences instead of gifts, because that’s something they’ll always have. I want to have experiences with her, things that she can carry with her for the rest of her life.” Some of those experiences Penny is looking forward to experiencing with Mavis include horseback riding and bringing Mavis to her first performance at Saenger Theatre.
While Mavis still has a little ways to go, she is thriving and back to enjoying things kids enjoy. “All she wants to do is climb. I feel like she wants to be a gymnast. She loves to climb, run, and jump. Even though she’s three years old, she’s still like a baby to me. She’s just so cuddly, and she’s still learning to talk. She’s gotten really good with her socialization, and she has really come around and made so much progress. She’s a different child. She’s happy all the time, she’s analytical, and she’s meticulous,” says Debbie.
Julio Dumas, Mavis’s abuelo, shares, “I’m a firm believer that children are miracles and a gift from God, especially Mavis. Whenever I question my faith, I look at Mavis. I’ve read that ‘life is a one-chance mission,’ but with Mavis, I think no, sometimes life gives you two chances, and here we are with a second chance on that mission, and that’s the way I look at it.”
Such a difficult experience can often become more complicated when costs of services are thrown into the mix. Through donations to St. Jude, children are able to get the best care they need at no cost at all. Organizations such as The Flower Fest also play a crucial role, as they donate their proceeds from their annual gala and festival to the hospital.
When Mavis’s family couldn’t visit her in Tennessee, her grandparents showed their support by attending the event, recognizing the incredible impact that the children’s hospital had on their grandbaby and all the families and children in need.
“St. Jude is just phenomenal; it’s just the best. If you’re looking for a charity, it’s a no-brainer. It’s saved so many lives, and I know what it has done personally for our family,” says Penny.
Mavis was even named The Flower Fest’s “Flower Child,” and her mom spoke at the event about their journey. “I let all the people there know, we are real people; your money goes to help real families, and I explained what all their money went to. It was really nice. I loved getting up there to tell people that St. Jude is so much more than just taking care of their cancer patients because they took care of me and my husband as well,” says Allison.
Mavis is surrounded by love, and because of the help provided, she is now able to focus on simply being a kid. With the community’s support of The Flower Fest and St. Jude, we can all help families just like Mavis’s, so they can all receive the care they need. For more information about The Flower Fest, visit theflowerfest.com. To learn more about St. Jude, visit stjude.org.