Iryss Holliday — Rare disease, exceptional outcome
Dwayne Holliday thought his daughter, Iryss, had a urinary tract infection. But when they felt a rock-hard lump on the right side of her abdomen, the dad took his little girl to see the doctor. Within 24 hours, Iryss went from the possibility of a urinary tract infection to the strong potential of a diagnosis for kidney cancer.
A biopsy was performed on the mass in her abdomen, nearly the size of a grapefruit. She also had a biopsy of a marble-sized lump on the side of her neck, which confirmed she had advanced kidney cancer — specifically, Wilms’ tumor, also known as nephroblastoma. She was just three and a half years old.
“It was no longer a kidney, just a tumor pressing against her intestines and interfering with her food,” her father says.
Although 500 cases of Wilms’ tumor are diagnosed every year in children ages three to five, only about 50 cases of Iryss’ particular type are diagnosed each year. Because her type is so rare, Iryss’ lab samples were sent to a specialized lab to be confirmed by Elizabeth Perlman, a pathology professor in Chicago who serves as the central pathology reviewer for the Children’s Oncology Group Renal Tumor Committee.
After multiple tests, Holliday and his daughter received the exact details: Iryss’ cancer was at stage IV, an advanced stage. The cancer was aggressive, reaching Iryss’ spine, kidney, liver, lung and intestines, but not the brain.
At the same time, however, the particular type of cancer that Iryss had was highly treatable, with an 86 percent recovery rate. There was room for hope.
“It was a three-week process being in the hospital,” Holliday says. “Within the first two weeks, she had her first chemo session. She had 47 tumors total by that time.”
Over the next few weeks, Iryss received chemotherapy to shrink the mass in her abdomen, then had two surgeries, one to remove the enlarged lump from her neck and the second to remove her left kidney. She continued with chemotherapy and then went on to radiation, which was fairly extensive due to the metastases. Her care team was able to cut her treatment time in half, to a total of 15 radiation therapy treatments. After radiation, she endured 31 more weeks of chemotherapy, along with numerous scans and a blood transfusion.
At the conclusion of her treatments, the little girl came through with flying colors. “She has a great spirit,” her father says. “She didn’t even stress when her hair came out.”
Holliday had to quit his job to attend to his daughter’s medical needs — traveling from Fairfield to Sacramento to take her to continuous radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Iryss’ story was covered by newspapers in Vacaville and in the Suisun-Fairfield area. The coverage spread the word about a fundraiser in downtown Vacaville organized by friends of the family to help with medical and living expenses.
Today, Iryss is doing great. “She’s full of energy,” Holliday says. “She was always happy, even while she was sick. But now she can’t stop jumping and running and playing. She’s ready to eat and drink all day long.”
“Iryss epitomizes the reason we pediatric oncologists love our profession,” says Anjali Pawar, the pediatric oncologist overseeing Iryss’ care who is medical director of the Pediatric Infusion Center. “She had one of the most widespread Wilms tumors seen in pediatric field, and she has come out a winner. She will always be one of my most memorable patients.”
The hematology and oncology section of the Department of Pediatrics recently started a new tradition: an “end of therapy” celebration for their cancer patients. Iryss was the recipient of the first gift: a bright white cake with pink and purple frosting spelling out her name and the message, “You did it.”
The idea was launched by Pawar and her colleagues to recognize children and their families for their courage and perseverance during the months of very difficult cancer treatment. Many of Iryss’ caregivers, including nurses, radiation therapists and physicians, attended the event.
The cake was donated by the Keaton Raphael Memorial, a foundation dedicated to supporting pediatric cancer patients and research.