She was not supposed to be here by now. Last summer, Emma Preston's parents, Chandler and Natasha Preston, made the difficult decision to discontinue treatment for their six-year-old daughter's brain tumors and bring her home from a hospital in Dallas. Doctors told them that they would only have her for another two to three months. Emma's parents wanted to make her remaining time as nice as possible.
Since her diagnosis in 2017 with a germ cell brain tumor on her pituitary gland, Emma had endured surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, proton therapy, and a stem cell transplant. At first, things seemed to be working out. After her first treatments she was tumor free for 18 months. But the tumor returned, with four more. She returned for more treatment. According to Natasha, an especially powerful round of chemotherapy with a stem cell transplant left her unable to walk or speak. She spent a week in a comma. Doctors told the Prestons that the tumors were still growing and growing rapidly.
When Emma returned home last August, friends, relatives, and complete strangers organized a parade in her honor and a fundraiser/Halloween party called Emmapalooza to help the family pay medical bills. Halloween is Emma's favorite holiday.
"We kept wondering when the symptoms were going to start," said Natasha. "There are a lot of symptoms (with growing brain tumors) and she never had any of them. She had maybe two or three good days a month, and the rest were bad, but we didn't really know what (the tumors or the results of the chemotherapy) was causing it."
A couple of months ago, the Prestons decided to have another MRI done to see what was going on with their daughter, who by this time had lived far longer than expected. The COVID-19 health crisis was beginning to intensify, and they had to wait two months for the scan.
When they finally got in, it took a long time to get the results. Because of COVID restrictions, only one parent, her husband, was allowed to go in and talk to the doctors. "They just said that they had no explanation as to why or how, but all the tumors are gone," said Natasha. "Even the swelling (in her brain) from the very first tumor, they said that was even going down." The doctors, Natasha says, say they do not understand either the disappearance of the tumors or Emma's adverse reaction to the chemotherapy. "They have no reasoning behind any of this doing what it is doing. … They say the things that happened to her shouldn't have happened, but it did."
The family will have to take Emma back for a check-up every three months, and she will remain on medication to deal with some of the effects of her disease. She will also have to begin physical, occupational, and speech therapy to try to reverse the problems caused by the disease and chemotherapy. Emma was in kindergarten when she was first diagnosed. She never finished, and she missed the first grade. Natasha says it will depend on the therapy when Emma would be able to return to school. Natasha is optimistic about the therapy helping her daughter. "There is a good possibility that it could," she said.
Natasha and the family have been through a lot. "It has been a roller coaster. That is for sure," she said. But she has her daughter, and the tumors are gone. She is looking forward to getting Emma started in therapy. "She is wonderful … she is doing good," she said. Natasha is a woman of faith, and with no other explanation from doctors, she attributes the disappearance of the tumors to God. "It is pretty crazy. We didn't expect it. The doctors really can't understand it …. So you know it is a God thing."
Natasha is ready for the long ordeal to be over and for her daughter to have a normal life. She has had to learn more about medicine in the last few years than she ever wanted to. She says her mother-in-law, a registered nurse, told her that with her experience now she could be a nurse. "I told her, 'I don't want to be a nurse.'"