Sweet Stella: Warrior Princess

Stella is a bright and adorable almost 6 year old excited about starting kindergarten this fall. She’s full of energy with a personality the size of Texas, expert of all things crafts and My Little Pony, and 100% girl whose favorite color recently changed from pink to purple. Above all, she loves her family. She's a pet lover to her two dogs (Sierra and Lucy), big sister to Ingrid (2) and daughter to Jason and Rachel Druffel.

On July 5, 2014, the Druffel family departed Spokane, WA on a road trip to Lake Tahoe for a 10 day long camping trip. The day after arriving, Stella developed severe lethargy and widespread bruising and petechiae (little red pinpoint bruises). Rachel took her to the Emergency Room at nearby Barton Medical Center, thinking she was dehydrated and maybe just needed some fluids. After what seemed like hours, they were advised that Stella had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). This was not the diagnosis that the family expected. Rachel and Jason had to immediately disassemble their campsite and drive Stella down the 100 mile windy incline to the University of California Davis Medical Center (UC Davis) in Sacramento to stabilize her. Stella’s blood counts (hemoglobin and hematocrit) were life threateningly low.

Stella entered UC Davis on July 8th and received blood and platelet transfusions throughout the night to stabilize her. Upon learning of her diagnosis, Gramma Sandi flew down to help the family and provide moral support. The goal was to get Stella back to Spokane to begin treatment, but her immune system was too compromised to fly commercially and driving home was not an option. A medical flight was the only way that the doctors would approve for Stella to come back to Spokane. After days of waiting and a conversation between the oncologist at UC Davis and the medical director of the insurance company, the insurance deemed that it was not necessary for Stella to return to Spokane for treatment when she was already somewhere where treatment could effectively occur. This was not an option for the Druffels: Spokane is their home and where their whole family and support network is located.

On the evening of Friday, July 11th, an ambulance took Stella and Rachel to board a medical plane at the airport. They flew home with a nurse and a paramedic, Stella slept peacefully the whole flight. Once back to Spokane, Stella got into an awaiting ambulance and was taken to the pediatric oncology department at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center Children's Hospital. The cost of getting Rachel and Stella to Spokane was a staggering $19,000, which at this point is yet to be covered by the insurance. Jason, Ingrid, and Gramma Sandi took a commercial flight back to Spokane, while Grampa Steve flew down to California to drive the Druffel family vehicle and camping gear back to Spokane, WA, a 14 hours drive. Over the weekend, the Druffels settled into their room at the hospital, and little Ingrid went home with her grandparents.

On Monday, July 14th, Stella had her first bone marrow biopsy, spinal tap (she will have approximately 27 during treatment), mediport placement, and first chemotherapy doses. After waiting for 5 days for the results of these tests, the Druffels got a bit of good news - there was no evidence of cancer in Stella's brain or spinal column. The results of her bone marrow biopsy showed neither positive nor negative chromosomes,which meant she was in the standard risk group for the first part of her treatment, the induction phase, and everyone was looking forward to potentially going home by the end of the week.

Things didn't end up that way. Stella's leukemia did not respond as anticipated to the first doses of chemo. She was reclassified to high risk after another spinal tap the following Tuesday, and will now need more aggressive chemo for the next phase of her leukemia treatment, the consolidation phase. In addition, the steroids that Stella is taking as part of her treatment regimine caused drug-induced diabetes, a potential side effect of the steroids. She will now use insulin for the duration of her induction phase.

How is our sweet Stella?

Three weeks to the day after Stella's initial diagnosis of ALL, on July 29th, she was discharged from the hospital and finally got to go home!

Stella passed time in the hospital making butterfly masks, writing notes to all the children in her class, painting Grampa Dan's fingernails, and giving guided tours to her multitude of visitors. Stella keeps everyone laughing with her inquisitiveness and very detailed food requests (again thanks to the steroids). As Stella prepared for bed one night, she warned her Mom about spending the next day together, “I talk a lot, you better be ready”.

One night, when Stella had had enough, she packed her little bag and declared, "I'm leaving this place!" Rachel's heart was breaking, and then she received a phone call from her dear friend Melinda asking Stella to look out her hospital window. In the park below, there stood three of Stella’s best friends, Delaney, Camryn, and Keegan waving "HELLO", they had been unable to visit because her is immune system is so deficient. It was enough to get her to unpack her bag and return to her fight against childhood leukemia. After all, she is her father's "warrior princess".

The outpouring of love, prayers, and support from family and friends has been amazing. It's through these times we all become closer. Stella is a fighter and so strong! If anyone can beat this it is our Sweet Stella. We all are confident that Stella will be the one to find a cure for this horrible form of cancer so no more children and their families have to endure what she so bravely is. Each day faces new challenges, but each is tackled by this little sprite. In the words of her father, Jason, "it’s a marathon, not a sprint", we will overcome.

To follow the progress of our Angel Stella, please visit: www.caringbridge.com/visit/StellaDruffel


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Lynde Nauert 
Spokane, WA
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