She had her right ovary removed and is undergoing chemotherapy.

By By Emily Shiffer
March 01, 2019
Photo: Fight with Kenni Facebook

When 2-year-old toddler McKenna "Kenni" Shea started to exhibit signs of an on-and-off-again fever and bloating in her stomach (on top of classic toddler irritability and picky eating), her parents Meagan and Michael Xydias were concerned and brought her to the doctor.

An X-ray revealed merely that her bowels were full. But her parents, who were convinced it was something beyond constipation, wanted a more thorough explanation and were sent to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Scottish Rite Hospital for an ultrasound.

What doctors found stunned them: Little Kenni had cancerous tumors, which were officially diagnosed as stage 3 yolk sac ovarian cancer.

"Yolk sac ovarian cancer is a specific type of cancer of the ovary called a germ cell tumor, and we do sometimes see them in children," says Stacey Zahler, DO, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic. "Germ cell tumors can form in the brain and reproductive organs of children, and happens due to cells that have abnormal mutations."

Kenni's case is particularly rare. Germ cell tumors only account for about 3 percent of all childhood cancers, according to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. And according to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is rare in women younger than 40, with most ovarian cancers developing after menopause. (And half of all ovarian cancers are found in women 63 years of age or older.)

So how did this happen? There may not be a specific cause.

"A lot of times it is simply a random event," says Dr. Zahler. "Hereditary factors may also increase your risk of germ cell tumors. There are many ongoing research efforts to understand more."

So far, Kenni has undergone surgery to remove the tumors. Her surgeons removed her right ovary and 5 inches of her small intestine. She also started chemotherapy (she is currently on round one of four). Her doctors are using a lower dose of chemotherapy, which they hope will have less on her remaining ovary and future fertility.

While Kenni's case is rare, thankfully, her prognosis is positive. "Yolk sac tumors are very treatable and very curable, especially when found at less than stage 4," says Dr. Zahler. "I expect her to do well, with at least a 90 percent chance of cure."

If you're concerned about this happening to your child, you can look for certain signs and symptoms: "You may notice your baby's belly is getting bigger or has a fullness to it. They may also have pain and cramping in the lower abdominal area. A simple abdominal ultrasound will be able to tell if there is a mass, and if so, then more detailed imaging like a CAT scan or MRI can be done," says Dr. Zahler.

You can follow Kenni's journey on Facebook. We're sending you good vibes and love, Kenni!