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Embracing Hope



From their first day at Sanford Children’s Hospital, Ona Mohlenhoff and her mother have had hope.

The seven-year-old girl with a sparkling smile that matches her shiny sequined cap came to the hospital with serious problems – a brain tumor the size of a baseball. There were serious days to come – surgery, radiation treatments and chemotherapy.

Yet the little girl whose middle name is “Hope” kept finding signs that everything would be okay. Outside her room in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, the word “hope” was painted next to the door, says her mother, Jenna.

“Almost every day one of the chaplains would come in and hand you a praying stone,” she says, reaching in her pocket for the smooth little stone. “One of the first ones we received was like this -- it said ‘hope.’ I knew that’s what we had to have.”

Finding an answer

Ona snuggles into her mother’s side, returning to her hospital room after some “school time” with a tutor. Inside the room, the bed and couch are filled with dolls, stuffed animals and art supplies. The little girl who loves to draw fairies and design clothes has made herself at home here.

The family first made their way to the hospital early this summer. For several months, Ona’s friends and family knew that something just wasn’t right.

The normally happy little girl was often tired and out of sorts, struggling to maintain her focus and her balance. One day in early June her mother came to pick her up from a day of summer day camp and the counselors said that she’d spent much of the day sitting in the corner crying.

“I just didn’t know what to think,” Jenna said. “This wasn’t like her at all.”

When Jenna tried to pick her up, she’d collapse. The worried mom took her daughter to the emergency room where doctors ran some tests. A scan of her brain showed a medulloblastoma, a large tumor in her brain’s cerebellum.

Taking action

Sanford cancer specialists immediately took action to remove excess fluid in her brain and soon the little girl started on a round of treatment that started with surgery to remove the tumor. From the start, Ona has responded to her treatments with an expectation that she will be healed, her mother said.

“At every stage, she’s done far better than anybody had expected,” Jenna said, stroking her daughter’s arm. “It’s been kind of surprising to everybody.”

When Ona had recovered from surgery, she started to come to the hospital for radiation treatments. Inside the room where radiation was beamed at the area where her tumor had been removed, the technicians would do their best to make her laugh every day. They would play tricks with the tape she had to use to mark the location of the treatment. Some days they would dance for her. One day they even made paper snowflakes, pretending that it was snowing.

“They did everything they could to make this a good experience for her,” Jenna says. “They realize that she’s just a kid and they took the time to do this. It makes such a huge difference.”

Ona is now completing her chemotherapy treatments and her prognosis is great, her mother said. Scans are showing that the tumor seems to be gone. The chemotherapy will help take care of any bits of tumor that might have survived the surgery and radiation.

A bright future

The little girl, tired after a day in the hospital, still gives her mom a big smile. She’d like to see a picture of the tumor someday, since she was asleep during the surgery to remove it.

“I want to look at it,” Ona says with a grin. “We’ll do that later, someday, when we’re all done with being in the hospital,” Jenna responds, smiling back.

Underneath the sparkly head wrap, Ona’s hair is beginning to grow back. The spunky little girl who has thought about being “one of those people who models clothes” can’t wait to see if her hair will still be brown, like it was before the treatments.

“There’s a whole lot of things I want to be someday,” Ona said. “I might want to do that or maybe something else. It’s hard to make up your mind.”

Ona’s future is bright, her mother says. Her family has hope that she will grow up to be whatever she decides to be.

“From the outset we knew there was just one outcome for us,” Jenna says. “We know that everything is going to be okay.”

Posted Date: December 2011

Embracing Hope

From her first day at Sanford Children’s Hospital, Ona Mohlenhoff and her family knew that she would be healed. Learn more about how this 7-year-old girl has been given “hope” that she will beat cancer.