‘You can be brave’: Schmitt Elementary fourth-grader battles bone cancer

A year ago, then 9-year-old Zhoie Perry first complained of having shoulder pain, but after taking over the counter medicine and putting heat pads and ice packs on the shoulder, it felt better.

At first, Perry’s mother, Dessica Coomer didn’t think it was something serious. But that all changed rather quickly.

“All of a sudden she woke up screaming in pain in the middle of the night about her arm, and I knew this wasn’t right,” Coomer said.

Because the pain was severe, they went back to see the doctor around late May of last year, and the initial thought was that she pulled something or reinjured her shoulder again after it recently healed. The pain with Perry still existed for a few more weeks, and this time, the over the counter medicine and heating pads and ice packs weren’t helping the pain. Perry’s shoulder began to swell up and wasn’t sleeping well.

Coomer expressed her newest concern to the doctors, and they went ahead with an X-ray. The results came back and showed that Perry’s shoulder was abnormal. They were then sent to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis for further testing. When the MRI results came back, it showed signs that Perry either had Ewing’s sarcoma or osteosarcoma. A biopsy was then performed, and a couple days later, the results came back for Ewing’s sarcoma.

During the time that had to wait for a diagnosis, Coomer explained that doctors showed the X-ray results to explain further what was happening to Perry’s shoulder. The cancerous tumor started eating at her bone until the bone was dead and not there anymore which explained the cause of Perry being in pain. Doctors then provided binders that lists everything they needed to know about Ewing’s sarcoma that included diagnosis, symptoms, medications and what to expect before someone starts treatment.

“We’ve been trying to stay positive as much as possible,” Coomer said. “At first, she had a really hard time with it and knowing she’s going to go bald, but then she’s come around. She’s quite confident now with being bald. From the time we heard about her diagnosis, we’ve been 100% honest with her like, ‘This is what happening and this is what we can do and can’t do.’”

Perry then went through two different rounds of chemo. The first round of chemo began on July 28, 2021. Each chemo treatment during that time was every two weeks for 12 weeks. The treatments altered from staying at the hospital for one day and then five day stays.

Before the chemo treatments started, Coomer mentioned that doctors put a port into Perry to make sure that her numbers weren’t low. If the numbers were low, they’d have to wait at least a week before another chemo treatment started.

After Perry’s first round of chemo treatments ended, the tumor shrunk enough that it was removed in early November and total reverse shoulder surgery was performed, which basically removes all of her shoulder bone and a mini-compress was put in place of the shoulder.

Following a short break of treatments, the second round of chemo began on Nov. 18. The process was nearly identical as the first round of treatments, but instead of 12 weeks, it was going to be for 16 weeks. The last round of chemo ended last month. No one felt more relieved that the chemo was over than Perry.

Following the last chemo treatment, recent scans showed no signs of progression, and on Tuesday, the doctors will remove the port Perry has had since the beginning of her chemo treatment. Coomer mentions that they’ll still do scans every three months to check on Perry’s shoulder. If the scans still show up clear, then scans will be needed less often.

This week, Perry has began physical therapy to help get her shoulder close to normal again. She’ll be going two or three times a week for six weeks. After the six weeks are over, they’ll check back in with doctors to see how she is doing and if more physical therapy is needed.

In the meantime between all of the treatments and doctor visits at Riley, Perry has found ways to still enjoy the important things a child does for fun. The nurses have held popcorn parties, movie parties and even played some charades, board games and video games on the Nintendo Switch.

Perry, a fourth-grader at Schmitt Elementary, went back to school the week after Valentine’s Day. Perry would have her Chromebook with her, and then take some time to have Google Meets once or twice a week. Perry celebrated her 10th birthday back in March.

“The nurses did an amazing job to accommodate to come in and do whatever they can for her, giving her plenty of encouraging words,” Coomer said. “The school has been absolutely amazing. Everyone at Schmitt has been amazing. They’ve gone far and beyond for Zhoie.”

Perry mentioned that she has a lot of activities that she wants to do this summer that includes going to the pool and making a trip to Holiday World and to Great Wolf Lodge.

Coomer mentioned that the family will be doing a blood drive in honor of Perry. Coomer said that they’re in talks with the Red Cross. Coomer said a date has not been set, and they are in the process of looking for a location for the blood drive.

Perry has offered some encouraging words to anyone that is fighting Ewing’s sarcoma or any type of cancer.

“You can get through this,” Perry said. “You can be brave, beautiful and bald.”