11-year-old to have stomach removed after diagnosis of rare stomach cancer

Published: May. 12, 2023 at 1:40 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE/Gray News) – An 11-year-old girl in New Orleans is preparing for a life-changing procedure while her classmates are thinking about summer break.

Ava Holley and her family knew she had cancer cells in her stomach but were hopeful she could live a normal childhood.

A recent trip to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a routine check-up proved otherwise.

Doctors said she had cells along the bottom lining of Ava’s stomach and that it was time to take her stomach out.

Her father, Corey Holley, and his mother carry the CDH1 gene, which causes diffused gastric cancer. He had passed the gene to both Ava and her 16-year-old sister, Zoey.

Corey and Zoey underwent surgery last year to remove their stomachs to survive, now Ava is preparing to battle the rare genetic condition with the same surgery this summer.

“They say if you have the gene, you should have the stomach removed because it’s going to grow sooner or later,” Corey explained.

Their doctor says the surgery involves attaching the esophagus to the small intestine to allow small portions of food to be eaten and digested.

Left untreated, doctors say diffused gastric cancer can be deadly.

Heather talks with other families afflicted with this disease and knows it could be a life-or-death situation.

“It is scary, and I’m scared. I’m petrified like knowing that I have to walk in that or with her and watch her go to sleep knowing there may be complications. It’s just hard,” Ava’s mom, Heather Holley stated.

Having your entire stomach removed is a hard concept for anyone to wrap their mind around, especially if you’re a child.

Ava, who explained it hurts every time she eats, knows this may be a way to make her feel better.

She’s hidden it well from her closest friends and teachers but recently decided to share her diagnosis with her classmates to help them understand what she’s been going through.

Reacting to the news that their young friend has cancer, Ava’s classmates have formed their own little family around her so she’s never alone, her teacher explained.

With medical bills mounting, the reality of three cancer diagnoses between her husband and two girls in just one year’s time overwhelms Heather. She’s the only one not battling stomach cancer in her house and struggling to be her family’s rock.

“It’s hard and I don’t think anybody actually fully understands. They’ll be like, it’s fine you’ve been through it already, it’s hard to tell someone you’ve been through it already when you haven’t seen it,” Heather said.

Ava’s surgery is scheduled for next month at St. Jude. She’s expected to spend at least a month in the hospital recovering.

She hopes to be able to start school on time in August, but that will all depend on how quickly she recovers.

The family started a GoFundMe account to help pay their medical expenses.