On July 4, 2005, a firecracker named Libby Grace Serber was born. The little girl with magenta hair grew up with explosive energy and glee. And chasing her provided her parents, Cara and Jeff Serber, their full allotment of exercise.
“I always wondered why I had this kid who I couldn’t keep up with,” Cara said. “I think it’s that personality that got her through this last year.”
In March 2012, Libby started developing regular low-grade fevers. True to form, her energy never waned, and she never acted ill. But the fevers just wouldn’t go away.
Libby’s pediatrician initially thought she merely had a tough virus, but gave her a blood test to confirm it wasn’t something more serious.
After the blood draw, Cara took Libby to a birthday party.
“Within 15 minutes, I got a call from the pediatrician,” Cara said. “She told me, ‘You need to get Libby to an emergency room now.’ She was concerned that her hemoglobin levels were dangerously low.”
Libby was seen in the Children’s emergency department and admitted that night. Her medical team suspected her low hemoglobin might be a sign of a spleen disorder. Libby, though, maintained her trademark vigor and was discharged the following day.
She went to Children’s Medical Center at Legacy for another blood draw a couple of days later. That’s when Cara was asked if she noticed signs of anything abnormal on Libby.
“I said that Libby’s tummy protruded a little, which I was thinking at that time might be because her spleen was enlarged,” Cara said. “As a new mom, I had never thought it was abnormal before. I had thought it was just her little Buddha belly that all kids have.”
Libby underwent a stomach sonogram the next morning, just to be safe.
The sonogram revealed that she had a tumor on her kidney that looked like a rare type of cancer called a Wilms’ tumor.
“It was so surreal,” Cara said. “It was every stereotypical thing that you hear parents say: ‘This doesn’t happen to us.’ ‘We have healthy children.’ ‘How can this be happening?’”
Two days after her diagnosis, Libby – who weighed about 50 pounds total – had a 3-pound tumor removed from her right kidney.
She then underwent an echocardiogram to evaluate if her young heart was healthy enough to withstand chemotherapy. It instead displayed that her tumor had broken off and gone into her heart.
Libby immediately underwent open-heart surgery. During the procedure, she was put on a bypass machine, and her heart was stopped for 43 minutes. She then spent 22 hours in intensive care, but only needed Tylenol during her recovery. She was released from the hospital two days later.
“She’s the classic redhead,” Dr. Laura Klesse, Libby’s oncologist in the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, said. “She was feisty all the way through. Also, her parents were supportive throughout. That made a big difference.”
The firecracker underwent 28 weeks of chemo and 16 sessions of radiation. And on Oct. 22, 2012, she received clear scans. There was no longer any sign of cancer in her body.
“For all intents and purposes, she’s beaten it,” Cara said. “We’re now to every-three-month scans.”
During her treatment phase, Libby lost the deep-red hair that topped her head and represented her spirit. However, her hair has now grown back a curlier, brighter shade of red.
She fittingly had the chance to perform in a musical version of Annie last winter; she wants to be an actress when she grows up. In the meantime, she’s just enjoying being a kid during summer. And her mother is grateful.
“Without a doubt, Children’s saved Libby’s life,” Cara said. “I can’t express my gratitude enough – not only to the people who cared for Libby at the hospital, but also to the people who give their resources to fund the care provided at Children’s.”