Ask any doctor about neuroblastoma and they’ll tell you: this rare cancer, which forms from immature nerve cells, predominantly affects children who are five years old or younger. So when 20-year-old Caitlin Clifford first started feeling ill, neuroblastoma was not on her mind. Initially, Clifford developed back and neck pain while traveling to Ireland. She was concerned, especially because the pain felt deep. It wasn’t something that could be soothed with massages or heat. But Clifford wasn’t entirely worried. After all, she had been traveling. She figured that she could deal with the pain once she returned home to Tampa, where she was pursuing her Marketing degree at the University of Tampa.
Caitlin’s Neuroblastoma Battle
But even after returning to Tampa, the pain never quite went away, never quite subsided. Then, reports the Irish Star, she noticed a lump on her head. Shortly after, her neck became stiff and difficult to move. Clifford couldn’t turn her head to the side. Panicked, she went to the hospital, where doctors brushed off her symptoms as muscle spasms. The pain worsened. One day, Clifford woke up completely fatigued, sweaty, and hardly able to move.
For the two months in between her return from Ireland her diagnosis, Clifford underwent intensive testing. Initial results in Florida suggested that she had cancer. She traveled to New York, where she originally hails from, to confirm the diagnosis: stage IV neuroblastoma. Doctors were blown away; Clifford’s doctor even told her that he had rarely seen neuroblastoma in anybody except young children. Her chances of getting neuroblastoma? Approximately 1 in 10 million.
Since receiving her diagnosis, Clifford has undergone an intense treatment regimen including chemotherapy, blood transfusions, immunotherapy, proton radiation, and surgery. At one point in her journey, she developed sepsis, adding another layer of difficulty. Despite this, she remains resilient and ready to move forward. Her scans have shown that Clifford’s cancer has improved, and she recently celebrated her 21st birthday. In the future, she hopes to continue traveling and finish her degree.
As you may recognize, this journey often comes with a large financial burden. If you would like to support Caitlin and her family through this challenging time, please consider donating to her GoFundMe.