Know the Glow was very honored to recently talk with McKenzie Robicheaux and hear about the amazing journey of her daughter Eliza. Eliza was only four months old when she was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma after her pediatrician noticed an abnormal reflex during a routine exam. We at KTG are very honored to share McKenzie’s account of their treatment journey so far and are routing for this little warrior as she continues her fight.
Eliza’s story as written by her mother, McKenzie Robicheaux
Eliza was born in May of 2021. She is our first baby and is breathtaking in every sense of the word. Her glow story begins just four months into her little life.
In September of 2021, we went for her four month appointment in our home town of Pineville, Louisiana. It was the usual check-up and shots. Eliza was laid down on the table and her pediatrician, Dr. Zulma Laracuente, took out a small flashlight and shined it into her eyes. She asked the nurse to turn the light off and continued to shine the light into Eliza’s eyes. After a while, she asked the nurse to turn the lights back on and informed us that she was unable to see the red reflex in Eliza’s right eye. She could only see a white “glow.” She said she would refer us to a pediatric ophthalmologist so that they could rule out glaucoma. The appointment was set for a week later.
We went to the appointment, hoping to rule out glaucoma. Due to Covid, only one parent was able to go inside with her. It was there that I found out what the glow in her eye actually meant. Eliza has cancer of the eyes, retinoblastoma. We made arrangements to go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis the very next day.
We were overwhelmed, but from the minute we walked into St. Jude we knew without a doubt that we brought Eliza to the best place for her treatment. She had her first EUA with Dr. Matthew Wilson and he found that she had cancer in both of her eyes, bilateral retinoblastoma. The tumor in her right eye was in the center of her vision, therefore he did not believe she ever had vision in that eye. The tumor in her left eye was in the peripheral, so she was able to see out of that eye.
We met with the oncologist, Dr. Rachel Brennan, and her team. She sat down with us, comforted us, listened to our questions, explained the same things over and over. She even drew out the plan of action on a paper towel and hugged us. The comfort and care she provided was very helpful during this hard time. The plan was eleven rounds of chemotherapy, with an EUA during each course of treatment to see how the eyes are reacting to chemo. She would also have an MRI every six months to make sure the cancer did not spread to her brain. They explained to us that due to the cancer being in both of her eyes, she has a greater chance of growing tumors in other places of her body. The chemo would not only treat her eyes, but would treat her whole body and prevent spreading. They told us their goal is to save the life first, save the eye second, then save the vision.
St. Jude offered to do genetic testing on all of us. We consented to it and it was determined that neither my husband or I carry the gene. Eliza is the first generation carrier of the RB1 gene.
Chemo was hard. Watching Eliza being put under anesthesia was hard. The sickness she endured was hard. BUT she was amazingly strong through it all. Our little warrior never stopped smiling! She’s truly my hero.
During chemo, we would continue with Eliza’s checkups with Dr. Laracuente. She would shine the light in Eliza’s eyes and tell us she could see more of the red reflex than before. That always gave us hope. Every person we saw at St. Jude was amazed that her cancer was found so early. They would often tell us that we needed to hug our pediatrician tightly for being amazingly thorough with her exams. Early detection is crucial for retinoblastoma. Thank you, Dr. Laracuente for caring so deeply for your patients! We are forever thankful for you!
Eliza’s eyes responded very well to the chemo, while she was on chemo. Dr. Wilson used laser therapy and cryotherapy for most of the exams. Eliza finally finished her chemotherapy treatments in July of 2022. The last time she had any treatment in her left eye was in November of 2021. Six months after her last chemo treatment, we talked to Dr. Wilson about enucleation. Since being off of chemo, her right eye continued to remain progressive. She was given cryotherapy every 3-4 weeks in her right eye. The therapy was painful for her. Dr. Wilson explained that enucleation would be less painful for Eliza long term. The fact that she couldn’t see out of her right eye, the therapy was painful, and not showing much improvement for the tumors helped us to make the difficult decision to have her eye removed. This surgery was performed on January 23, 2023 and she is doing amazing after!! We will go to St. Jude in the middle of February and in march, where she will receive her prosthetic. For both appointments, she will have an EUA. We are believing that the cancer is gone and we pray it will be gone forever!!