For the third time since she was 22 months old, 11-year-old Paperjack Elementary student Avery Evans - or Brave Ave as her family calls her - was diagnosed with cancer, specifically Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
"Avery is our warrior, my little dolly, our Brave Ave, who handles all of her struggles and treatment with such grace and strength. She has even wiped my tears. I am without words that this has happened to our baby girl again. We just love her so much," said Avery's mother Jenn Evans.
Avery's family - including father Matt, mother Jenn and older sister Madelyn - was "crushed, hurt and speechless" on May 30 when they learned Avery would once again have to fight for her life, Jenn said. The leukemia was caused by Avery's previous treatments for her inoperable brain stem tumor, which the family thought was behind them before it returned in 2014.
"She is now in a third fight for her life at Minneapolis Children's Hospital with St. Jude collaborating on treatment protocol," said Jenn. "St. Jude is also doing some advanced testing of Avery's bone marrow and spinal fluid samples. We are now trying to find tiny positives and silver linings to help us get through each challenging day."
Avery recently completed an aggressive and harsh 10-day chemo regimen and will have a bone marrow biopsy in a few weeks to see if she is ready for a bone marrow transplant.
"Our hope, trust, and faith in God sustains us as this treatment regimen will take months, including a bone marrow transplant at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. We are praying for another miracle for our sweet and precious Brave Ave!" Jenn said.
According to Jenn, Avery is a New Richmond hometown girl who simply loves spending time with her family, playing dolls, games, camping, art, music, going to the ocean, sleepovers with Grandma and Grandpa, writing stories, animals (including family dog Cinnamon and her fish Lily), and shining her light on everyone who meets her. Avery adores and looks up to her older sister Madelyn.
"My parents Tom and Donna (Papa and Nana) have walked these roads with us every step of the way and we are so blessed for that. We have a very small family by blood, but we are so blessed to have friends we call family and support of all of our God Warriors!" said Jenn.
When Avery was 22 months old, Jenn and Matt noticed that her walk had a wide gait and that her smile was a bit crooked. So they took her to see a pediatrician who referred them to Children's Hospital to "rule out some things," Jenn said. The doctors at Children's did an MRI of the brain and found an inoperable brain stem tumor.
"We were devastated at this news and our world was turned upside down. We were thrust into the world of childhood cancer and a fight for Avery's life," said Jenn.
Instead of staying for treatment at St. Paul Children's Hospital, the family took Avery to the Mayo Clinic where she underwent chemotherapy to try and shrink the tumor. Unfortunately, the treatment was unsuccessful, so the family traveled to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. There, Avery endured being sedated daily (30 days in a row, except for weekends) to undergo focal radiation treatment.
"We lived at the Ronald McDonald House away from family and friends who could support us which was extremely difficult. The treatment was brutal but successful. Over a three-month period the tumor had shrunk 70%. The St. Jude doctors were astonished," Jenn said. "Over time scar tissue formed over the remaining tumor bed. We thought we had put childhood cancer behind us. Avery had to learn to talk, sit, walk, and eat again. She fought so hard and brave that we came up with the name Brave Ave!"
Following her treatment in Memphis, the family lived life to the fullest and cherished every moment. However, three years later in 2014, the Evans family found out Avery's brain tumor had returned. Avery received treatment at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital with St. Jude partnering with them on the treatment protocol. She endured a chemo regimen of four drugs for about one year.
"Avery was so strong and fought through going to school at Paperjack Elementary School as a kindergartner as much as she could. Before the end of the chemo protocol Avery was declared no evidence of disease (N.E.D). She just started going to annual visits to St. Jude for MRI follow-ups," Jenn said. "We are asking the New Richmond community to pray for Avery and our family."
To follow Avery's story, visit her Caring Bridge page at caringbridge.org/visit/averyevans. Her site has been visited more than 568,000 times since 2010.
In addition to the Caring Bridge page, a GoFundMe page has been set up for the financial hardship that the Evans family will have with medical bills, gas, parking at the hospital and food. Any amount you can donate will be helpful and greatly appreciated, Jenn said.