In 2013, 7-year-old Emily Zimmerman, who lives in Reno, Nevada, began experiencing headaches. Her parents, Ken and Jennifer, took her to the doctor, but they were convinced it was just a simple sinus headache, which they attributed to the poor air quality at that time because of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park.
However, when Emily’s headaches hadn’t subsided a month later and she began vomiting every day, her parents grew more concerned and took her to the hospital, where she underwent an MRI. Later, the hospital called Jennifer and told her that they’d found medulloblastoma, a type of cancerous tumor, in Emily’s brain, and that she needed to be brought to the hospital immediately and flown from there to Stanford, California, for surgery.
Jennifer called her husband in tears, and the couple immediately sprung into action to get their daughter to treatment. “I literally grabbed my purse and Emily and drove to the hospital in Reno,” she said, “and they put us on a helicopter and care flighted us to Stanford.”
In Stanford, Emily’s neurosurgeon, Dr. Grant, greeted the family and showed them a photo of the tumor, which was lit up white on the scan and was about the size of a golfball. Emily also had hydrocephalus, an excess of fluid in her brain, which had caused the headaches and vomiting.
Dr. Grant was optimistic that he’d be able to remove the tumor, and the family was able to relax a tiny bit, but they were still terrified for their daughter’s life. “When we were going through the whole process,” said Ken, “we had a feeling of loss, even when our daughter was still there, because we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Emily got treatment for her hydrocephalus and then had her operation on October 17th, 2013. It was successful, and the tumor was removed. But Emily still had a long road of chemo ahead of her.
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And the family had a long road ahead of them every time they had to travel to Stanford for treatment. In good weather and without traffic, it took four hours to drive from their home in Reno to the hospital in Stanford. And if those two factors weren’t cooperating, it could take upwards of 10 hours to make the trip.
The Zimmermans did their best to make the journey in one day to save money on hotel rooms and allow them to return to work the next day, but they soon found the round trip was often more than they could handle in a day, especially in heavy traffic. If they got out of doctor’s appointments after 3 pm, they had to stay the night.
Not only that, but the family often had to get Emily up as early as 2 am to make it to her appointments, which interrupted her sleep and exhausted her even more than she already was with her chemo treatments.
Things were quickly spiraling out of control for the Zimmermans. Until they learned about Angel Flight West.
Click “next” below to learn more about Emily the Cancer Warrior Princess and the nonprofit that helped her get to treatment!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?