‘She looked in her eyes and she said it was a tumor,’ Knoxville mom highlights importance of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month


KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Jasmine Martin knew something wasn’t right with her 16-month-old daughter after seeing a small glow in her eye.

In July, Martin noticed intermittently a little glowing speck in Sariyah’s eye, but didn’t think anything of it at first.

“July 30, 2020, I noticed a glow in her eye,” Martin said. “It’s just this huge circle and it was like a, like it almost looked like a moon. That’s the only way I can explain it. It just looked like a moon. And in that moment,I just knew something was wrong,”

By then, the speck was more noticeable in person and in pictures. Martin posted some of the pictures on Facebook, looking for recommendations of what to do next.

She said people were commenting that it was probably cancer, which of course got her worried, so she called her daughter’s pediatrician to book an appointment.

Martin said her pediatrician saw them the same day she called.

“Could this be cancer?,” Martin asked her doctor. “Because I Googled a bunch of things, and it all leads to cancer,” She said, “No, it can’t be cancer.”

The appointment didn’t satisfy the feeling Martin had in her gut.

Martin works at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital and one of her co-workers suggested she take Sariyah to one of their optometrists.

Picture of the glow in Sariyah’s eye and picture of the tumor. Photo courtesy of Jasmine Martin.

“She looked in her eyes and she said it was a tumor. … I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I felt, I was just frozen in that moment,” Martin said.

Martin said the doctors diagnosed Sariyah with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer that is usually diagnosed before a child is 3 years old, according to St. Jude Children’s Research and Hospital.

Martin was told to take Sariyah to St. Jude that same night.

Martin said doctors at St. Jude immediately started taking scans and working out a treatment plan for her daughter.

As it turned out, Martin said doctors found early signs of a tumor in Sariyah’s other eye.

“I keep thinking, what if we didn’t end up here when we did? She could be blind in both her eyes or worse. She could be, she could lose her life from it because it can spread,” Martin said.

Martin said the small seedling of the second tumor was lasered out, but the other tumor required a lot more treatment.

“Every three to four weeks she’s going to have to have treatment. And she has systemic chemotherapy, some weeks it’s for five days and then some it’s for one day,” Martin said.

One of those days Sariyah’s treatment is administered in such a way she has to be under anesthesia.

“Her body can’t really handle it. She throws up, she gets really sick, and she ends up having to be on fluids, and so those days are hard,” Martin said.

Martin said her daughter is resilient. Most days Sariyah acts like a typical 16-month-old girl, as if she didn’t have cancer.

That doesn’t make it any easier on her parents though.

“That’s been the hardest part, because everyone says, ‘Oh she won’t remember this,’ and ‘she doesn’t know what’s going on.’ But I do. And as a mother seeing her go through it, it’s hard.”

Jasmine Martin

This journey has been hard for Martin and her family for a few reasons, on top of the fact that Sariyah has cancer.

Martin’s four other children have been staying in Knoxville with family while she and her husband are in Memphis for Sariyah.

“It’s hard because you see everyone posting these back to school pictures. I can’t be there to see that with my kids. I posted chemo pictures. I don’t get to see them, and I really miss them,” Martin said.

She said COVID-19 hasn’t helped their situation either.

St. Jude allows both parents to be with the child during the first week of appointments, but after that only one parent can be in the hospital at a time.

“And it fell on the week that she started her chemo and that was the hardest time because we couldn’t be together, so we had to rotate out and just take turns,” Martin said.

Martin said the support from her community has been a blessing through all of this.

Her co-workers at ETCH brought her other children toys, books and food.

But they weren’t the only ones to step up and help.

“So many people, who we don’t even know, have helped us. Our church, One Life; they have helped us so much. We’ve had people say, ‘Hey can I stop by and bring some meals for the kids back home?’ They have cooked meals for them. They brought them toys back home,” Martin said.

Sariyah has received a lot of support from family and strangers as well.

People sent her cards, toys and even a little bumper car.

Martin said families have helped tremendously in other ways as well, such as taking care of her dog.

Jasmine said she and her husband currently only have one car, and would need another once they left Memphis. A few families offered to give her a car for free.

Martin said she wants parents and doctors to be more aware about childhood cancers, even if they are rare.

“There should be more awareness on it. Especially at the doctor’s office and especially, I thought doctors should know about it. You know, enough to know that, ‘Oh hey, there’s a glow in her eye, I’m going to get her to an eye doctor’,” Martin said.

She wants parents to never stop fighting and trust their gut.

“If they know something is wrong, fight for that. Fight to be heard. It shouldn’t take, you know, because I work in a hospital, but it shouldn’t take for me to know people and have those connections. It shouldn’t take that. We should be taken seriously and heard,” Martin said.

The Martin family heard good news Thursday. Doctors told them Sariyah’s tumor is starting to shrink and they might be able to go home soon.

“They said that they went into this thinking that they were just going to have to remove her eye and we’re gonna have to go that route, but we don’t. Thank goodness. So, we’re able to hopefully save her vision by getting rid of the tumor,” Martin said.

Sariyah will still have a long battle to fight. Due to the type of cancer, she will have to get scans for several years.

“She’s going to have to have exams under anesthesia for the next five years. And then after that she won’t have be put to sleep for it. … She’s going to have MRIs, hearing tests because this treatment can, the chemo can cause hearing loss,” Martin said.

With all the love and the support the family received, and the little miracles of knowing it could’ve been worse had they not received a second opinion so soon, Martin has hope.

“There’s a lot of hope, and so from that, I have to believe that Sariyah’s going to fight this and that she’s going to be OK,” Martin said.

The family has set up an account for donations to help Sariyah fight cancer. You can find that account here.

Martin also wanted parents to know about knowtheglow.org. She said she has learned not every glowing speck means cancer, but it could be another disease.


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