Akylah’s Michigan Answer: The Fastest Response for the Rarest Cancer

At 10 years old, Akylah Marshall was your typical preteen. Playing basketball and softball, dancing, watching TikTok and hanging out with friends were just some of her passions. She even discovered a newfound interest in volleyball that she was looking forward to pursuing. 

But in November of 2019, life had different plans for Akylah. After days of severe and unexplained vomiting, Akylah’s mother Angela knew that what her daughter was experiencing was far from routine. Worse, in less than a week’s time, Akylah’s abdomen was bulging and distended well beyond its normal shape and size. 

Angela called her family physician’s office and was told that Akylah needed to be taken immediately to the emergency room at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital

“When my doctor said go to Michigan Medicine, it really hit home that this must be serious,” remembers Angela. “At the same time, I knew if something was seriously wrong that Michigan Medicine had the best doctors and was the place Akylah needed to be.”

Within days, Akylah’s doctors and medical team confirmed Angela’s fears; Akylah not only had a large volleyball-sized tumor in her abdomen, but the tumor had ruptured. 

The next morning, Akylah had surgery to remove the tumor, followed by a five-day stay in the hospital. 

“The type of tumor Akylah had was extremely rare and very aggressive,” recounts Erika Adams Newman, M.D., pediatric surgical oncologist at Mott. “Our team really came together and acted quickly and safely in order to remove the entire tumor and assure that Akylah would have the best possible outcome.”

Our team really came together and acted quickly and safely in order to remove the entire tumor.

“Dr. Newman was really awesome,” remembers a grateful Angela. “I’m so thankful for her. She gave us a sense of comfort and confidence. Her team was great too.”  

While Akylah’s surgery was successful and her condition had stabilized, she was far from out of the woods. The multidisciplinary team, including pediatric pathologists who performed the tumor analysis, revealed a cancer diagnosis. Oncologists then determined that Akylah would require chemotherapy right away. Akylah endured four rounds of chemotherapy that stretched over the next nine weeks. It was a very difficult experience for Akylah, Angela and their family, but one they bravely endured. 

“Akylah was a rockstar,” says Angela. “She had occasional vomiting, but was really brave and resilient throughout everything. The hardest part for Akylah was losing her hair. But after a week or two, she felt comfortable and confident going places with a bald head. So, yeah, she really persevered.” 

In the 16 months since this all began, Akylah Marshall has seen a dramatic improvement in her condition. While it’s too early to call her cancer-free, she’s well on her way. And Angela is as hopeful as ever. 

“The plan is they will continue to monitor her. This cancer could still morph into something else, but the prognosis is pretty positive,” says a smiling Angela. “We can only control our positivity and outlook.”