Local girl battling rare cancer

Jasmine Burton holds Stitch, her pet bearded dragon.

What started in May as a headache for 15-year-old Jasmine Burton was soon discovered to be the beginnings of a battle with a rare cancer.

While Burton’s mother, Krissi Conaway, was out of town the last week of May for a funeral, Burton started getting headaches that everyone thought were being caused by her new acne medication. Her pediatrician took her off the medication and expected the headaches would vanish.

But Burton awoke incoherent June 2 and couldn’t sit up. After being rushed to Parkwest Medical Center, doctors found what was believed a cyst on her brain. She was taken to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital where an MRI revealed the cyst was actually a tumor.

“So we thought everything was going to be OK,” Conaway said. “Of course, we go through, and we have hope. We have faith. We know that God’s got this. So she went in, and they went in and did surgery on June 9, and they got all the tumor, and the tumor fell right out. So we thought it was no big deal. We thought, ‘Oh, it’s just benign, that thing just fell right out and popped right out of her head.’ They sent it back, and the doctor, which was hematology and oncology, called me the following week, and they said, it was the day before her appointment, ‘Don’t look it up on Google, but she has glioblastoma grade 4’.”

Conaway couldn’t find much information on Burton’s condition because glioblastoma grade 4 cancer typically occurs in older patients.

“While she was in radiation, we were fortunate enough to get into a clinical trial,” she said. “We’re actually going to go back to Ohio here in a couple of weeks. When we went up there the first time, they told us about how glioblastoma works and what it does in the body. They said that there’s a little over 4,000 new pediatric cancer cases a year and only 1 percent is glioblastoma grade 4. So it’s super aggressive, super rare in kids. There’s not a lot of information we can go on about even life expectancy, because cancer is different in kids than it is in adults. So we don’t really know anything. We’re really going into it blindly.”

Burton’s doctors described the cancer like a bacterial infection, which will become resistant to chemo treatments and spreads aggressively.

The family hopes to raise awareness about glioblastoma grade 4 because of the lack of information available.

Conaway has been honest with Burton about the cancer and tells her she has to have hope. Burton has her life “right with God” so she feels at peace.

At the beginning of their journey, Conaway made a GoFundMe page dedicated to expenses related to her daughter’s cancer. While Burton does have health insurance, traveling back and forth to Ohio for the clinical trials proved expensive for the family of five when hotel, food and travel costs were added up.

“I haven’t seen the number in a while,” Burton said. “I haven’t looked at the GoFundMe page in a while. Last time I saw it, it was about $2,000, and I was pretty surprised by that.”

She is also surprised by support from the community.

Central United Methodist Church in Lenoir City made Burton a gift basket with her favorite snacks and gift cards and get-well-soon cards. Other churches, including her family’s home church, North Lenoir Church of God, have kept Burton and her family in their prayers and offered spiritual support.

“Jasmine is really an extraordinary young lady,” the Rev. David Bandy, church pastor, said. “She has a great work ethic, which for someone her age that’s highly commendable, and she’s just an impressive young lady. You know, obviously with what she is dealing with she shown a great deal of strength and courage, and we just couldn’t be more proud of her and certainly are praying for her daily. We’re trying to do some different things as a church to rally behind Jasmine and her family.”

Conaway created a Facebook page, “Jasmine’s Cancer Journey,” so people can keep up with what’s going on in the teen’s life and post words of encouragement.

“It’s amazing to see everything we do have because there’s people I don’t even know who’s throwing in so much support, and that’s one reason why I made the page specifically for her updates,” Conaway said. “So if she needs to see words of encouragement, she can see them one-on-one there. … There was a time we had to put down social media for a while. I think it was when we first found out about the cancer, we had to collect our thoughts before we could take in everything. Now we’re getting to where this is our new normal. … Everything that everybody’s done, it’s been amazing. I don’t even know where to begin on thanking everybody.”

For more information, visit Burton’s GoFundMe page at https://gf.me/u/yr9n2d.