"They were just some of the darkest days of my entire life," mentioned Nicole Dodge.
Nicole Dodge of Virginia never expected to hear the news she did after noticing her now 2-year-old daughter Natalie swinging her arm awkwardly in 2022. She mentioned how it was a Friday afternoon and since it was in the beginning of 2022, there were still some COVID measures being followed in the hospitals. "My only option at that point was to go to the ER. She wasn't even crying so that seemed really extreme," she said to PEOPLE.
Doctors suspected malignancy after spending hours at the ER, and a biopsy was sent to a lab. Natalie's results were received four days later by the Dodgers. The results shocked her as her daughter was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma which is MYCN amplified, meaning her cancer is growing at a rate that is 10 times more than the regular case of neuroblastoma. For them, it was the worst diagnosis to have received after which they lost any hope and just went to the bedroom and sobbed. She said that the experience was awful. "I felt like the rug was ripped out from underneath me."
Dodge claims that the doctor told her and Andrew that Natalie had a 50% chance of survival. It was a "not real choice" kinda situation as they could go through two years of treatment and she could live, or they could go through two years of treatment and she could die.
The ride to their next oncology visit, according to Dodge, was the "worst hour of my life." But everything changed when the Dodges came for Natalie's appointment. The doctor walked in and told them that there was some great news for them. She said that she was just on the phone with St. Jude, a hospital with a trial that reported 80% survival.
Less than a week later, Dodge and her daughter traveled almost 700 miles to Memphis, Tennessee, where Natalie "received five rounds of very high-dose chemotherapy and immunotherapy together."
Natalie also underwent resection surgery to get rid of the tumor and had two transplants of bone marrow with her own stem cells. Then she had 13 rounds of radiation.
Dodge claims Natalie was in the final third of her treatment as of early March: immunotherapy. After the toddler's first five rounds of chemotherapy and immunotherapy, she was pronounced "having no evidence of disease" and has "continued to have clear scans." "It's truly, truly remarkable," she says. "I have seen other protocols at other hospitals around the world, and there are not as many kids having that NED status so early in treatment elsewhere, as I've seen at St. Jude."
Overwhelmed with happiness, Dodge thanked everyone who helped her get through this tough time, including her family, friends, and community. She also mentioned how sharing Natalie's story on social media helped her think of how far they've gone and kept her going. "Making these videos felt kind of therapeutic for me, especially on days when she felt so sick and we were stuck in this tiny room and we couldn't go anywhere," said Dodge. "They were just some of the darkest days of my entire life. And it helped me to remind myself how far we had come and to be thankful that I was stuck in this room with this little girl who was alive."
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | Tatiana Syrikova