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Showing the love: ‘My little bionic girl’

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The pain started with a stiffness in her neck.

When Cheyenne Adams complained to her mom that her neck hurt, it was presumed to be growing pains. Maybe her daughter slept on it wrong, Catherine Adams said.

But when that soreness morphed into excruciating pressure and constant tears from 10-year-old Cheyenne, what started as a stiff neck turned into a four-month nightmare.

Cheyenne had a noncancerous aneurysmal bone cyst around her spine, crushing the bones in her third vertebrae. In late April, neurosurgeons worked for 10 hours to remove the growth from the delicate tangle of nerves, spinal tissue and arteries supplying blood to the brain.

The procedure was successful, and Cheyenne has been recovering since then.

“Now, we just wait and pray that it doesn’t come back,” Catherine Adams said.

For the past month, Cheyenne has had to keep her neck protected and still. She wears a brace while the repairs done to her spine heal. Surgeons removed the entire third vertebrae from her spine, installing metal screws to keep it together.

“I tell her she’s my little bionic girl now,” Catherine Adams said.

Aneurysmal bone cysts are not caused by any known factor. The tumors don’t result from a genetic abnormality, nor is it congenital.

Typically, the growths develop in children between the ages of 10 and 15.

“They told us it was just something that happened randomly,” Catherine Adams said.


Age: 10

Home: Greenwood

Parent: Catherine Adams

School: Fifth grade at Northeast Elementary School

The first symptom of the cyst showed in February, when Cheyenne complained of neck pain. The problem persisted, but her doctor advised the family to simply be aware if it gets worse.

It did. During a family vacation to North Carolina in March, the pain grew worse.

“The first night we were there, she couldn’t sleep. She cried all night long and kept holding her neck,” Catherine Adams said.

They returned to Indiana and went in for another doctor’s visit, which revealed a mass in the middle of her shoulder blades.

Further scans and tests showed that particular mass as only a knot. But on an X-ray, doctors found another growth on her third vertebrae, crushing the bones in her neck.

The pain in Cheyenne’s neck had reached unbearable levels. She couldn’t get up off the couch or bed without Catherine Adams supporting her neck from behind.

At Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, Cheyenne had to undergo a surgical biopsy to determine what this mass was.

The growth turned out to be an aneurysmal bone cyst. Though it wasn’t malignant, its placement threatened Cheyenne’s life.

“The tumor was wrapped around one of the main arteries in her neck. Then on the third vertebrae, it cracked it and was cracking where her brain stem was,” Catherine Adams said.

Cheyenne would need to have the cyst surgically removed. Because of where it was placed within the spine and around her artery, doctors explained the procedure could kill or paralyze her.

“From the very first appointment, the neurosurgeon hoped it was the type of cancer, because chemo would be a better option than the surgery,” Catherine Adams said. “That’s how high-risk it was.”

The healing process has lasted for about a month. She was unable to go to her fifth-grade class at Northeast Elementary School, get out and see her friends and just be a kid. Her neck muscles were too weak following the surgery, and a wrong move could result in significant spinal damage.

“She’s very spunky. Being down for a couple months has been about the worst thing that could happen to her,” Catherine Adams said.

Teachers, administrators and staff from Northeast call the family every other day to check in.

Her teacher, Gordon Goss, will take time over the summer to go over missed lessons with Cheyenne, so that she won’t be behind when classes start in the fall.

“My whole living room is decorated with get-well stuff that they’ve sent to her,” Catherine Adams said.

Thursday, Cheyenne returned for her last week of fifth grade. She’ll have her graduation ceremony this week and get ready to enter Greenwood Middle School. Barring any complications from the healing, she will be finished with treatments.

Getting to symbolically finish her year with her classmates has been vital to helping wash away the difficulties of the past few months, Catherine Adams said.

“She’s a little social butterfly, so that’s been so important,” she said.

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