“I knew something was wrong,” 14-year old Harper Anne Miller said. “I couldn’t even walk. I texted my mom, and I was like something’s wrong. I couldn’t get out of bed.”
Last fall, Harper Anne Miller’s severe stomach pain ended up being much worse.
“It’s just devastating,” mom Kristi Zimmerman said. “I mean it’s the worst thing you could possibly hear as a parent. Your daughter has a tumor on her pancreas, anybody, any parent who’s been through it knows. That’s the worst thing, you’d rather it be you.”
After the extremely rare diagnosis and discussion, the family made the trip to Memphis for surgery at St. Jude.
“St. Jude is just a best place that you never want to be as a parent,” Zimmerman said. “You’re walking through there and everybody thinks that this is normal and you want to hug other moms because this is not normal, like you’re so grateful for this place, you also feel guilty for not wanting to be there, you know.”
The surgery to remove the tumor was a success, and Harper Anne was eventually back home with family and friends. Last month she enjoyed her 8th grade graduation ceremony at St. Thomas More.
“I’m very proud of myself I felt like I did a good job because like I said in the hospital I was determined to get out of bed,” Miller said. “Like I told them I’m doing this. And like I was, I stayed determined to get my grades back up and everything I did.”
With any health threat, early detection is key. After a coronavirus hiatus, the Prevention on the Go program at Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Baton Rouge is back in action.
“Many people over the last several months we have to take a step back and kind of pause our program to figure out how do we deliver services safely in the community,” Johhnay Benjamin said. “And so now we are ready to go back on the go, prevention on the go really is excited to be back into the community where people know us and where they’re used to seeing us and so this month we are bringing the mobile unit back out and providing the cancer screenings for breast and colon rectal cancer first and adding others on as we go through the summer.”
The mobile screening center travels throughout the region. Program director Johnnay Benjamin says the program has screened nearly 100,000 people since inception.
“But if you have a family history of something, or you have something that’s really bothering you. Let’s say it’s something on your skin maybe a mole that has changed recently or in the example of a lump in your breast, that’s not working, you want to you know work, even if it’s in your adolescent, you want to make an appointment, so that we can really do the testaments necessarily find out what it is, and maybe perhaps put your mind at ease that what you’re feeling really can be contributed to something else, or if indeed there is a diagnosis there they get that treatment as soon as possible.”
The biggest health message: When something doesn’t feel right, get it checked.
“Always taught her listen to your body what is it telling you so she was able to communicate with me,” Zimmerman said. “Mom, this is not stomach virus. This is something else. And I listened to her so parents will listen to your children when they’re telling you, this was different.”
Miller added, “Be brave and just not be afraid, like of what would happen is like even though I had a tumor like I like, I knew I could get through it.”
These days, Harper Anne is enjoying summer time before attending St. Joseph’s Academy next fall.
“She’s doing great. She just had her six months scan, and she’s all clear.”
To contact Mary Bird Perkins – Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center’s Prevention on the Go Program, call (225) 215-1234 or visit marybirdlake.org