Throughout June 2020, Penelope’s parents, Cassandra and Jack, felt that something was not right with their young child. Some yellowing around the eye progressed into a bruise. Originally, their pediatrician thought that the cause was normal toddler clumsiness. Afterall, Penelope was a lively two-year old. However, when her parents noticed a lump on the side of her head and her eye protruding, they took her straight to the Emergency Department. It was there that Cassandra and Jack learned that Penelope had cancer. A few days later, Hackensack Meridian Children’s Cancer Institute oncologist Katharine Offer, M.D. confirmed that Penelope had high-risk neuroblastoma.
Penelope’s treatment started right away. Dr. Offer recommended a clinical trial through the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), a clinical trials group and the world’s largest organization devoted exclusively to pediatric cancer research. CCI’s membership in COG is supported through Tackle Kids Cancer funding. “The treatment uses MIBG therapy after induction to aggressively fight the disease. Penelope is a good candidate for this trial because of her high risk.”
Cassandra admits that being on a clinical trial is a “little scary,” however she and Jack were excited that Penelope was a candidate. “We are very pro-research, and when offered the trial we were excited because we feel it is the best option for her treatment. We want to do anything that can help her.”
The clinical trial requires Penelope to receive chemotherapy followed by Metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) therapy. MIBG is a compound that can be combined with radioactive iodine (I-131) to deliver targeted radiation therapy. MIBG is so potent, that Penelope needs to be isolated several days after treatment as she emits radiation.
Treatment has been a tough road for this little fighter. The chemotherapy drugs have been very intense and have made her incredibly sick at times. “I learned that some of the medications she is on were actually created for adults. They have been so hard on her little body. That is one reason we need research. We need more medications that are formulated specifically for children.”
Sadly, Penelope passed away in February 2021 after her courageous battle. Before she passed, Penelope and her parents, Cassandra and Jack, made a wish with Make-A-Wish New Jersey in hopes that a donation could be made to Tackle Kids Cancer that would benefit all children undergoing pediatric cancer. Funding pediatric cancer research through Tackle Kids Cancer is important to Cassandra and Jack, as only 4% of the national cancer research budget is allocated to pediatric cancer, and only three new cancer drugs were developed for children in the past twenty years.
In April 2021, Penelope’s wish was granted through a donation to Tackle Kids Cancer to honor her memory and help other children fighting their own battles with pediatric cancer. Make-A-Wish New Jersey and the New York Giants also had an exciting surprise for Penelope’s parents – a special visit from #TeamTKC Captain Eli Manning.