5-year-old defies the odds after invasive neurosurgery to remove tumor

ENID, Okla. - Games are the building blocks for five-year-old Rebecca Roper of Enid.

She's having fun at her latest physical therapy appointment, building a wall out of huge cardboard blocks. Soon they switch to tossing balls, and then Rebecca holds her therapist's hand tightly as she walks barefoot along a stretch of wooden board.

Rebecca is relearning everything from talking to walking since her world unraveled back in the summer of 2017.

"Her daycare called and said, 'Rebecca can hardly walk,'" recalls Larry Coats, Rebecca's grandfather.

Larry is a retired Enid utility lineman who is working full time these days to see Rebecca thrive again.

"We drove down here and they did a Ct Scan on her and sure enough they found a tumor on her brain stem that was the size of a lemon."

The lemon was a tumor called a glioma.

Dr. Abhishek Bavle from Jimmy Everest Cancer Center explains, "it was in a very bad location right behind the brainstem, which carries all the nerves from the brain down to the spinal cord."

Images of her scar post-surgery are dramatic. It's a long incision behind her head and neck.

OU neurosurgeon, Dr. Naina Gross had to remove two vertebrae to get to the glioma and some of the tumor was too deep to reach safely.

"Like any good brain surgeon, she had to leave that part in," says Dr Bavle.

He says it's after surgery when everyone holds their breath.

Would Rebecca regain skills as simple as swallowing and talking?

Weeks later, while watching cartoons together, grandpa got his answer.

"The commercial came on for Skechers light up sneakers. She said 'Papa, I want those.' I said OK. Then I thought, WAIT, what did you say!?"

Rebecca was on the mend, and yes, she did get those light up shoes.

While undergoing a test of her motor skills, Jimmy Everest Cancer Center staff clap and praise Rebecca for each accomplishment.

Everyone is thrilled that physical therapy is going so well.

"She's a very fun, bright girl," says Dr. Bavle.

Rebecca's grandfather says the staff at Jimmy Everest has been very supportive, and so have Rebecca's kindergarten teachers in Enid.

"They all love Rebecca," he says with a smile.

There are many appointments and treatments still to come for Rebecca.

She's undergoing chemotherapy treatments because MRI scans showed the tumor was starting to grow without the drugs to hold them back.

Doctors are hoping they can continue to suppress the glioma while Rebecca grows because when she stops growing, it might stall permanently as well.

Rebecca's type of tumor is not aggressive, so they don't expect it to spread throughout her body.

For now, she's meeting her milestones one smile, throw and step at a time.

If you'd like to help children like Rebecca fight cancer this holiday season, consider donating to JECFriends.org

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