Bella Radermacher, four-year-old daughter of Tabitha and Travis Radermacher of Ortonville, is an inspiration to princesses everywhere. Bella was diagnosed with Stage 4 liver cancer on April 28, after her parents discovered a bump on her stomach. “We went to the doctor thinking it was a little hernia,” said Tabitha. “She has always been completely healthy, so we never suspected anything like this.”
Since her diagnosis, Bella has been enduring a lot of poking and prodding and most of her hair has fallen out. Her mother says it hasn’t phased her one bit. Her body didn’t want food either. “She had a feeding tube which she also handled well, but that’s been removed,” Tabitha said. The feeding tube was contained in a backpack with a penguin motif, because penguins are one of Bella’s favorite animals. She also loves Minnie Mouse, Barbie, Figaro the cat, and ice cream, of course. And she’s always ready to take you on in a game of Trouble or Hi-Ho-Cherry-O, but be prepared – princesses always win.
And like a true princess, Bella keeps her chin up so the crown doesn’t slip, but princesses get tired, too. Her mother explained Bella was exhausted after the first round of chemo and she’s always more tired as the day goes on. “That first round was tough,” Tabitha said. “But now she’s playing like normal which is fun to see.”
“We talk about this with her and she understands a lot,” Tabitha said. “She knows she goes to the castle to help her get rid of the ickies that are in her tummy. She has a special button (a port) that only the coolest princesses get and is only poked when we are at the castle. When she has surgery we tell her she is going to take a nap. Her feeding tube was to help her get milk to her tummy to stay strong, and the scar is her zipper.
“It’s amazing what a little four-year-old can understand,” Tabitha said, “much more than we give them credit for.” But so much has happened in the last few weeks, even the adults are struggling to comprehend it.
Tabitha and Travis took Bella to the doctor in Ortonville on April 26. The doctor ordered a CT scan. “When it was done, the doctor came into the room and said, ‘I think you need to go to another hospital. A bigger one.’” “The doctors didn’t tell us anything then, just that it was a mass,” Tabitha said. “But reading the nurses’ and doctors’ expressions, seeing them tear up and give us hugs, we knew. We had a feeling.” The couple decided they would go to Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls.
Thursday, April 27, Bella went in for a “nap.” The surgeon removed a portion of the mass. “That went well, but they told us the bleeding would not stop, so she ended up with a bigger incision than the doctors initially indicated. That was kinda scary for us.”
After the biopsy, the oncologist said she thought Bella had liver cancer because the mass was vascular and because of the size of it. “We actually didn’t find out the official results until Friday, April 28, at about 6 p.m.” Tabitha said. “We were also told it was Stage IV because Bella has some spots on her left lung. It doesn’t matter how many spots there are, if there is even one, they automatically say it is Stage IV.”
Tabitha added this type of “icky” is rare. “It usually only happens in children from birth through age three and Bella is four. The fact that she was also asymptomatic makes it even more rare.”
Bella began chemotherapy on May 2. In her first round, she had five days of chemo, followed by a two-day break. After the first round of chemo, the doctors had the family go to the University of Minnesota to meet with a liver transplant team. “The U of M did all the testing and got all the pictures they wanted, so that if and when Bella needs a transplant, they will be ready to go. As of right now, the plan is to shrink the mass, which encompasses nearly the entire liver, as much as possible,” Tabitha explained. “They may be able to cut out the bad parts of the mass and parts of the liver that may be affiliated with it, but they may not be able to cut out anything if it remains so large. The next step would be a liver transplant.”
Bella resumes scans on her liver June 22, after her third round of chemo. “After her scans we should find out which route to go – transplant or more rounds of chemo,” Tabitha said. “
Until then, Bella will continue to have bloodwork done to check her AFP levels – the protein cancer produces. “Initially her levels were so high they couldn’t get an exact number, and when they did, her numbers were over a million. A normal adult usually falls between 0 and 10.”
Despite facing a parent’s worst nightmare, Tabitha and Travis take each day as it comes. “We are very faithful and pray a lot. We trust that this is a path, whether we like it or not, that God wants us to be on, so we just have to go with it right now. Yes, we have our days when we ask why and are mad, but most days we just know we have to follow the path He has for us. Something big has to happen, we don’t know what that will be, but there has to be something good in the end.”
Since Bella became ill, Tabitha has not returned to work at the Ortonville Hospital as an acupuncturist. “They have been completely understanding and so supportive. I just take it day by day, but am not ready to go back to work yet. I’m a protective mother, and I just want to be with Bella to make sure she is ok.” Travis recently returned to work at the Bellingham Elevator where he is an agronomist and seed salesman.
The couple also has a two year old son, Ian. Tabitha says Ian keeps humor alive in the family. “We need that at home. Ian and Bella act like normal siblings and make each other mad at times, too.”
Ian stays with his grandparents when Bella is undergoing treatments. “Both our moms stay at home, so it’s really nice they take care of Ian while we are away,” Tabitha said. Tabitha’s parents are Tim and Cindy Henrich, and Travis’ parents are Bud and Lou Radermacher.
According to Tabitha, her family has experienced an outpouring of support – even people they don’t know. “Everyone has been overwhelming and amazing. We feel hugged from everyone every single day.”
A fund has been set up for Princess Bella at Minnwest Bank in Ortonville. Donations go directly to the family in an account named Bella’s Benefit.
A benefit is planned for Bella on Saturday, July 1, at Sioux Historic Pavilion in Ortonville. A pork supper and silent auction begin at 4:30 p.m. Live music will be provided by Garage Dwellers.