By Mark Udry
a teenager “What do you hope for?” and the answers will
be as varied as there are teenagers.
To go to college and earn a degree.
To be a starting point guard in the NBA.
Help the sick and dying by becoming a doctor.
Get married and raise a family.
When Kara Masson of St. Augustine was 13-years-old, she hoped, more
than anything else, to live to see 14.
In January 2000, Kara was not feeling like her normal self. She
was frequently fatigued, suffered from constant headaches, had no
appetite and couldn’t keep down what little food she did eat.
Her parents took Kara on a round of doctor’s visits. One specialist
thought it was puberty; another said it was migraine headaches.
Meanwhile, Kara’s condition worsened.
|| This summer, Kara worked as
a camp counselor for the Summer Spectacular program of St. Johns
County. The young girls attending the camp said they look up
to Kara and love being with her.
Kara’s mother, Jane, started doing her own research. She found
Kara’s symptoms mirrored someone suffering from a brain tumor.
That bit of medical detective work may have saved Kara’s life.
Jane Masson asked Kara’s pediatrician to order an MRI of Kara’s
brain. The results of the scan showed Kara had a brain tumor near
her brain stem.
Three days after her MRI, in August 2000, Kara was wheeled into
an operating room at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville
to have the tumor removed. She went into surgery with the prayers
of dozens of fellow Catholics at St. Anastasia Parish in St. Augustine
St. Anastasia, says Kara, is a very close-knit parish, where many
of the families know each other.
“I know when I was sick there were a lot of prayers offered
up for me,” she said. “People who didn’t even
know me but knew my situation were praying for me.”
Doctors thought initially that the golf-ball size tumor was benign.
Once Kara’s surgery was underway, they found it was much more
serious. Kara had a tumor called Medulloblastoma.
Medulloblastoma is the most common primary central nervous system
tumor that appears in childhood. It frequently occurs in an area
between the brain stem and the cerebellum. It is an aggressive,
fast-growing tumor, which can, if left untreated, spread to the
spinal cord and other organs in the body. It is treated with a combination
of surgery, to remove the tumor, radiation and chemotherapy to keep
the tumor from returning.
After a week’s hospital stay following the surgery, Kara was
sent home to recover for the next round of treatments. She had six
weeks of radiation therapy, five days a week at Baptist Cancer Institute
in Jacksonville. Kara also began chemotherapy at the same time.
The chemotherapy was administered intravenously once a week for
Once a month, Kara would receive two stronger treatments that required
hospitalization at Nemours Children’s Clinic. One was an intravenous
fluid, the other was a tablet with medication so strong Jane had
to wear rubber gloves when handling it; otherwise it would burn
“We would go into the hospital for 24 hours and not really
sleep because we dealt with the chemo,” said Jane. “We
got into a routine. We would rent whatever movies we were hoping
to see and take them to the hospital and watch movies for 24 hours.”
Twenty percent of children undergoing treatment for Medulloblastoma
sometimes develop severe, sometimes irreversible neurological problems,
including loss of speech and difficulties maintaining balance. After
her surgery, Kara found that she had trouble standing and walking.
“My balance was off and I probably would have recovered, if
I didn’t have to undergo radiation and chemo right away,”
she said. “The treatments made me really, really weak.”
The combination of radiation treatment and chemotherapy ravaged
Kara’s body. She was in a wheelchair, unable to walk, and
all of her hair fell out. She couldn’t keep down any food
because her digestive system had shut down. In an effort to keep
her body nourished Kara received TPN - Total Parenteral Nutrition
- a combination of nutrients and liquids administered intravenously.
She ate nothing for more than a year. Her weight dropped to less
than 70 pounds.
“My mom was helping me out of the bath one day, and looking
at me she said I looked like a skeleton,” Kara said. “She
thought at the time that I was going to die.”
“I really didn’t feel like I was going to die, but some
days I felt so horrible that I wished I would,” she said.
Kara describes her ordeal as strengthening her faith and making
her a stronger Christian. One incident, during a hospital stay for
chemotherapy, she recalls with particular clarity.
It was late at night. Kara felt awful, as usual. She was unable
to sleep. Kara forced herself to close her eyes, thinking she would
eventually fall asleep.
“Almost immediately, I felt like someone was holding me, like
a mother holding a baby,” she says, her voice barely above
a whisper. “It was just the most amazing feeling I’ve
ever had, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it was Christ
holding me, saying, ‘You’re going to get through this,
you’ll be okay.’”
Due to her illness, Kara didn’t go to school for the eighth
and ninth grades; instead she had a series of tutors who helped
her with her studies, and she was able to keep up with her classmates.
Two years after her surgery and treatment, Kara returned to classes
as a sophomore at St. Augustine High School. Still weakened from
her ordeal and bound in a wheelchair, Kara felt the stares and heard
the whispers as her friend, Courtney Jones, helped her navigate
the hallways. Most would say hello, but many didn’t talk to
her. No one called her at home or included her in after school activities.
It was a slight that hurt Kara almost as much as her illness. And
yet, she didn’t get angry, didn’t question God about
“I realize now God didn’t make me sick,” Kara
said. “He doesn’t want this stuff to happen, but when
it does, he’s there to get you through it. I’m not sick
any more, and it’s because of God that I’m still here.”
“God touched me, God kept me alive.”
Kara graduated from St. Augustine High in 2005 and is beginning
her sophomore year at Flagler College, majoring in elementary education.
When she graduates she wants to teach at R.B. Hunt Elementary School,
where she was a student. Kara just finished working a summer job
there, helping run the Summer Spectacular Camp for St. Johns County.
She has also slowly regained her strength, going to physical therapy
twice a week, working on her balance, in the hopes of walking again.
“My therapist would probably say I’m doing well, although
she gets upset with me because I don’t use my walker or crutches
as much as I should,” Kara says.
Now, at 19, Kara has a different set of hopes.
“When I was sick, I hoped that I would live,” she said.
“I’m hoping that someday I’m going to meet somebody
who doesn’t freak out when they see my wheelchair. I want
to fall in love, get married and have a family. I want to teach.
I want to take my dog Molly and get a house somewhere.”
Sitting in a lounge chair in her family’s living room, Kara
draws up her legs and wraps her arms around them. She rests her
chin on her knees. She looks away, out through the sliding glass
door that leads to the backyard, thinking.
“Most of all, I just want to be normal.”