Infant's cancer defies diagnosis, prompts local fundraising event
Woodbury native Tara Carlson received an unpleasant surprise when she went in for her 32-week ultrasound in October.
"The tech saw something on the ultrasound," said Carlson, who owns Sweet Peas Floral in Woodbury. "They didn't know what it was but they knew there was something there."
Carlson, a Woodbury High School graduate, was referred to Minnesota Perinatal for another ultrasound with a high resolution camera.
"I remember looking up at the screen and saying, 'What is that thing,'" she said.
The ultrasound showed a mass about the size of a softball on the shoulder of Tara's unborn daughter.
"I got really kind of freaked out," she said.
Doctors were uncertain what the mass was, but they believed it to be a vascular tumor.
Doctors later determined it not to be a vascular tumor.
"I didn't even know babies could be born with cancer," Carlson said.
On Nov. 1 Carlson was admitted to Abbot Northwestern Hospital where doctors decided to give her a C-section.
Carlson, who lives in New Richmond, Wis., gave birth to her daughter Jacqueline five weeks premature on Nov. 1.
Immediately after Jacqueline was born, she was rushed to the neighboring Children's Hospital.
In addition to the unknown mass, Jacqueline was also born with hydrops, which is fluid around the lungs.
Jacqueline was instantly put on morphine because the large mass on her shoulder had been so painful.
The child eventually became addicted to morphine, which doctors had to wean her off of.
Jacqueline spent a total of 68 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Children's Hospital.
Doctors decided to perform a biopsy on Jacqueline 10 days after she was born to determine what the mass was.
Results were still inconclusive.
The biopsy results were next sent to the Mayo Clinic, Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee, Washington University Medical Center in Missouri and another Children's Hospital in Philadelphia.
"Every single one came back with a dramatically different diagnosis," Carlson said.
Eventually doctors said even though they didn't know what it was, they had to put a name to it so they diagnosed it as a sarcoma tumor.
Carlson's father Kevin Joyce, of Woodbury, said the unknown was very frustrating.
"Despite all of those different activities of some of the best minds in the country, we still don't know what's going on," he said. "It's hard to hear the doctors can't figure it out."
Within 36 hours after the biopsy, the mass on Jacqueline's shoulder turned black, which caused doctors to decide it was time for surgery.
Even though doctors were able to remove the majority of the tumor, a portion of it is attached to her clavicle.
"The baby is so small and her bones are so small and soft that if they started scraping it off the bone they ran the risk of mutilating her," Joyce said.
Jacqueline was left with an open wound about the size of a softball on her shoulder thanks to the surgery.
Following the surgery, Jacqueline went through a round of chemotherapy.
"They don't know how the tumor is going to act because they don't know what it is, actually," Carlson said. "They don't know how aggressive it is."
Doctors determined the tumor wasn't growing or changing at all, and there were no other traces of cancer anywhere else, so they decided to send her home.
"Maybe the chemo stunted and stopped it," Carlson said.
Jacqueline returned home on Jan. 22.
"Time will tell," Joyce said, "but for the time being she has beat it.
"We're not out of the woods yet though."
While at home, the open wound where the tumor was removed has shrunk to about the size of quarter.
However, Jacqueline is still eating from a feeding tube.
Jacqueline will go through periodic MRI tests to determine if the tumor is changing at all and whether or not it can, or should, be removed.
Benefit for Jacqueline
To help pay for medical expenses, Joyce has organized a benefit fundraiser for Jacqueline and her parents at Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale on Feb. 17.
The event will consist of live and silent auctions, a raffle and a catered meal from Lake Elmo Inn.
"We've got some really nice things coming in," he said, "everything for everybody."
The list of auction items is extensive, and ranges from vacation trips to Minnesota sports memorabilia - including autographed items from the Twins' Joe Mauer.
Joyce said he is even working on getting players from the Minnesota Timberwolves to stop by to sign autographs.
Joyce said he is hoping to raise $30,000.
Carlson said she is optimistic in Jacqueline's recovery.
"I'm struggling with why did this happen, why can't they figure out what it is," she said. "It's not fair for a little infant.
"In reality they don't know what could happen - I think it's going to be a long road - but in my heart she's going to be just fine."
The fundraiser for Jacqueline Carlson will be from 2-6 p.m. Feb. 17 at Guardian Angels Catholic Church in Oakdale. Tickets are $10. Children ages 6 to 12 are $5 and children under 5 are free. Absentee donations can be sent by checks payable to "For the Benefit of Jacqueline Carlson" account No. 1 300291890 to Anchor Bank in Woodbury. More on Jacqueline's story can be found at www.caringbridge.org/visit/jacquelinecarlson.