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'Fight like a princess': Young Harrisburg girl recovering from battle with rare lung cancer

  • Indy Jones is a big fan of Disney princesses, especially Tinkerbell.

    Indy Jones is a big fan of Disney princesses, especially Tinkerbell.

  • Indy Jones, at right, rides a carousel with her dad, Adam, and her best friend Violet Murray on the horse next to her.

    Indy Jones, at right, rides a carousel with her dad, Adam, and her best friend Violet Murray on the horse next to her.

  • Indy Jones, left, with her best friend Violet Murray.

    Indy Jones, left, with her best friend Violet Murray.

  • Indy Jones with her mom, Whittney.

    Indy Jones with her mom, Whittney.

  • Indy Jones.

    Indy Jones.

  • Indy Jones with her parents Adam and Whittney.

    Indy Jones with her parents Adam and Whittney.

By Travis DeNeal
Posted on 6/6/2018, 1:00 AM

HARRISBURG -- Indy Jones is fighting like a princess.

Earlier this year, the 3-year-old was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer. And in the short time since Indy first wasn't feeling like herself in April, life for Indy, her mom, Whittney, and dad, Adam, has been a fast-paced series of hospitals, decisions and procedures.

Whittney said when London Indiana Jones was born, she had no apparent health problems.

So Indy had been growing and playing like any other little girl, when her mood changed at the beginning of April. Adam and Whittney planned to take Indy to Disney World, but about two weeks before the vacation, their young daughter began acting out of character.

"At first, she was just clingy, which was weird for her. Typically, she likes to go to her room, play with her toys, dance and move around a lot," Whittney said. "We thought maybe it was just a run-of-the-mill bug. Then, she started complaining about some pain, but for a 3-year-old, it was hard for her to point out where she was talking about."

Indy developed a fever, and her parents took her to the doctor. Nothing conclusive was determined, although a urinary tract infection was suggested.

It wasn't until the family went out to eat one evening that Whittney said she and her husband realized Indy's situation might warrant greater scrutiny.

"We were sitting in a restaurant, and she let out a really terrible scream and wouldn't stop crying. I took her out to the car to try to calm her down. The first thing she did was grab the left side of her chest up by her neck, and when I asked her again where it hurt, she started grabbing her stomach," Whittney said.

A trip to the ER resulted in a flu swab, but the test was negative. Doctors suspected she might have some sort of infection, and antibiotics were prescribed. At first, it seemed to do the trick.

"It did seem to resolve a little bit of the pain, but the fever would not go away," Whittney remembered. "We also noticed she had developed a weird little cough, kind of a dry cough, and it was just in the morning."

Tylenol would suppress the fever, but it would not go away. The day before the big trip, they decided to return to the doctor's office.

The doctor decided an X-ray of Indy's stomach area might help with a diagnosis. She was so small, that the X-ray caught a little bit of her chest area, too. Her left lung looked almost solid white.

That indicated an infection of some kind, very likely pneumonia. They took Indy to Deaconess Hospital in Evansville, Indiana, for further testing.

"The doctor there actually made the correct diagnosis right on the spot," Whittney said.

That doctor suggested pleuropulmonary blastoma, a cancerous lung condition. The family was told they had a room ready for them at Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis if they went that night. They did.

"It was pretty much a whirlwind, going from a bug to a UTI to pneumonia to cancer," Whittney said.

To battle the tumor rapidly growing in Indy's lung, doctors decided she needed nine to 12 months of treatment with four types of chemotherapy. Their hope was to shrink it and contain it within the lower lobe of the lung, allowing the upper portion of the lung to be saved.

The chemo was tough on the young girl.

"She had all of the side effects, especially the hair loss, the vomiting and neuropathy," Whittney said. "She felt terrible, she looked terrible. She was shaking and getting up every few minutes to puke."

After the first round of chemo, a heart scan was required to check the condition of Indy's heart, which chemotherapy can damage. The results were not expected. The tumor in the lung had found its way into Indy's heart through a blood vessel. A portion of it was moving freely, which posed more problems.

"They described it as looking sort of like a wind sock," Whittney said, "but the danger was if it broke off it could travel to her brain and accelerate the spread of cancer in her body."

Indy immediately was prepped for surgery. Adam and Whittney took comfort in the knowledge that their surgeon was regarded as the top heart surgeon at the hospital. It would be a four- to five-hour surgery to remove the new tumor growing in Indy's heart and then attempt to remove the lung tumor.

Indy's heart would have to be stopped during the process, and the odds were slim it would be completely successful.

After only about 2 hours, however, doctors called the parents in.

"It was terrifying, of course. It hadn't been long enough," Whittney said.

It turned out, though, to be what felt like the first break for Indy since she became ill. Despite what it looked like on the X-ray, the tumor had not gone to the top part of the lung. The surgeon removed the small tumor in Indy's heart, and they took out the whole tumor from the lung.

"Unfortunately, she lost the lower part of her lung, but it was already so damaged, they probably couldn't have saved it anyway," Whittney said.

These days, Indy is feeling a lot like her old self again. She's not done with treatment; she still needs chemo to prevent any surviving bit of the tumor from regenerating. But, Whittney said, it's apparent their young princess is feeling better.

"By the time we came home, it was almost like it was before," she said. "She was playing, having a good time, laughing, going outside. She was enjoying herself again. It was a night-and-day difference."

Meanwhile, having the tumor removed has had the most profound effect on Whittney and Adam.

"Before, it was like there was a big, dark cloud hanging over us while we waited for the medicine to work," Whittney said. "As soon as it was out, it felt like a miracle."

On Saturday, family and friends will host a trivia night and silent auction fundraiser for the family.

The "Fight Like a Princess" event costs $100 to enter a team of up to 10. In addition, donations for silent auction items have come from numerous businesses and individuals throughout the community and surrounding region. The event is 6 p.m. at the Harrisburg American Legion, 600 E. Logan St., Harrisburg. For more information or to register a team, contact Felicia Murray at Eldorado Memorial Library at (618) 273-7922 or Ray Gorman at Harrisburg District Library at (618) 253-7455.