Fight like a hero! That is just what Piper Heywood is doing these days.
Five-year-old Piper lives in the Batesburg-Leesville area and has three siblings. She enjoys playing dinosaurs, watching Jurassic Park, and until September of this year, was attending Batesburg-Leesville Primary School.
Shortly after the school year began, Piper started feeling unusually exhausted, and after days of nausea and continued weakness, her pediatrician sent Piper for a CT scan. A large mass was discovered on Piper’s right kidney and from that point, she was diagnosed with Nephroblastoma.
“September 9, 2019, is the day that changed Piper’s whole life,” said her mother Angela Castine.
Nephroblastoma is the most common type of kidney cancer in children. Currently, the survival rate for this type of cancer is 90 percent.
Piper’s diagnosis began a 12-day stay at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital in Columbia, which involved numerous tests, implanting a port for her chemotherapy, and three blood transfusions. She came home after this stay only to return to the hospital three days later due to a spiked fever.
Piper had surgery to remove her right kidney in November and received radiation, which she completed just before Thanksgiving. She has spent 44 days in the hospital since September when she was first diagnosed; of that, 10 days was spent in isolation because she contracted influenza.
” As of today, she continues to take about eight to 10 medications daily and receives chemotherapy,” her mother said.
Within the last week, she has begun occupational therapy and physical therapy to help with side effects of her chemotherapy. She now has developed neuropathy in both of her hands and in her right foot, making it difficult for Piper to hold a pencil, or to balance on her feet.
“Most of the medications that Piper has taken for the cancer are not pediatric approved, which means they are made for adults with this type of cancer. Therefore, they carry a greater risk of side effects,” her mother said.
The family does receive support from immediate family and close friends. Prior to Piper’s illness, her mother Angela worked two local jobs to support her family. Now, her days are spent taking her daughter back and forth to Prisma Children’s Hospital and making sure she is taking her medications as ordered. She protects Piper and her other children from getting sick and juggles all the other responsibilities that come with being a single parent.
“When I learned of Piper’s diagnosis, my world started spinning and I felt I could not breathe,” Angela said. “Now our entire life is different. Some days are lonely. We can no longer wear shoes in the house, and the children must strip down daily when they come in so that there is a minimal amount of germs in the house.”
The family has been offered many resources to help them during this time. The social workers at Prisma Health Children’s Hospital have been great at assisting Piper’s family, Angela said.
Piper dyed her hair before it fell out and now wears a variety of handmade hats. She especially likes her Elsa hat made by The Magic Yarn Project. She and her siblings are closer than ever before, and the family has created some close friendships through Piper’s treatments.
Angela said she is grateful to everyone for their love and support during this time. “If there is one thing I want to share with other parents who have children experiencing this same type of health issue, it is that they are not alone, and the kids are more resilient than we realize,” she added.
Piper now has her own Facebook page, “Fight Like a Hero — Piper Strong,” to provide friends and well-wishers regular updates on her recovery.
A spaghetti plate benefit is being held on Saturday, Jan. 4 to help her family with financial needs. The fund-raiser will be at Hollow Creek Community Center, 2701 Priceville Rd. in Gilbert. For more information, contact Melissa Brewer at 803-582-8089, Ashleah Heywood at 803-480-0725, or Missy Lewis at 803-317-0247.
Story by Tonya Rodgers / Published December 26, 2019