On August 24, 2014, Jalaya Kendrick celebrated her 13th birthday. She was starting eighth grade and looking forward to participating in her favorite sports – basketball, cheerleading, and track. She was outside playing basketball when she felt a pain in her arm.
“She told me her arm was hurting her, but it was Sunday evening. I told her I’d call a doctor on Monday. The next morning, she said it was still bothering her and she really wanted me to call the doctor,” said Katina Moody, Jalaya’s mother.
That afternoon, Jalaya and Katina were at an orthopaedic specialist’s office getting an X-ray of the humerus bone in the upper portion of Jalaya’s right arm. Katina will never forget that appointment.
“The physician assistant told us the X-ray looked suspicious and said it could be cyst. Then she took me into the hallway privately and said ‘this could be bone cancer,’” said Katina.
Katina was shaken but forced herself to remain calm and did not say anything in front of Jalaya. The next day, they had an MRI scan. The images confirmed their worst fears – Jalaya had a type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.
“Jalaya fell to pieces when she heard the news. She cried and cried,” said Katina. The very next day, they drove from their home in Pembroke, Georgia, to see an orthopaedic oncologist in Atlanta. Over the next week, Jalaya had surgery in Atlanta to biopsy the cancer along with scans of her entire body to make sure the disease had not spread.
“The doctor told us how much chemotherapy she would need. I said, ‘there’s a children’s hospital in Savannah that is 45 minutes from my home, versus Atlanta, which is a four-hour drive for us,’” said Katina. Their doctor contacted the Memorial Health Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital of Savannah to confirm a treatment plan.
When Jalaya received chemotherapy, she had to stay in in the Willett Children’s Hospital for a period of time. Then she would go home, recover, and come back for the next treatment. This went on for 26 rounds of treatment. In December, when she was between treatments, doctors operated on her right arm. They removed the bone that was damaged by cancer and replaced it with a donated cadaver humerus that was attached to her own bones with titanium screws. Katina said Jalaya refers to the donated arm bone as her “Beyoncé bone.”
Jalaya had to do several rounds of physical therapy and special ultrasound treatments to stimulate bone growth and learn how to use her right arm proficiently again.
Katina split her time among work, Jalaya’s treatment, and caring for her other daughter, Arielle, who is a year-and-a-half older than Jalaya.
“I did well when everything was going according to plan. But when something went wrong, such as Jalaya’s [blood cell] counts being off, then I got upset,” said Katina.
She received constant support from the entire oncology team at the Willett Children’s Hospital. “Our nurse navigator, Amanda Crosby, always said, ‘don’t worry. I’ve got it. I’ll take care of it,’” said Katina.
Throughout her treatment, Jalaya could not go to school, but she kept up with her classmates with the help of a special home and hospital teacher. In May 2015, at the end of her eighth-grade year, Jalaya finished chemotherapy. Just a few months later, in August, she started high school with her older sister.
“When she went back to school, that was hard for me. I was worried about her. It was hard for me to let go,” said Katina.
Jalaya is now a junior in high school. She’s back on the track team and the cheerleading squad. She can’t play basketball anymore because it is too physical and she cannot risk injuring her new Beyoncé bone.
Katina says dealing with osteosarcoma has been a roller coaster ride and it’s something that will affect Jalaya for the rest of her life. But she knows her daughter is strong and will get through any challenges life throws at her.