Danielle Pollicino was a high school honors student and varsity athlete when her world turned upside down.
"It was during volleyball. And it just started aching really bad. It felt like a growing pain. And then it just wouldn't go away," Pollicino recalled of a pain in her arm.
Doctors found a malignant tumor in the bone of Danielle's forearm. She was immediately scheduled for surgery then chemotherapy. The lifesaving treatment could leave her infertile.
"I woke up in the middle of the night and said, "oh my God, what are we going to do? She's too young. She's going to want to have babies," said Danielle's mother Lisa Pollicino.
Dr. Jill Ginsberg directs the Cancer Survivorship Program at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She's testing an experimental procedure that may preserve parenthood for even the youngest cancer patients, by harvesting, freezing, and storing reproductive tissue, before toxic treatment begins.
"Long down the road when they are cured of their cancer, if they are having difficulties, this tissue can be thawed and then re-implanted," Dr. Ginsberg said.
Adult female cancer patients can sometimes undergo a procedure to harvest eggs. But that can take weeks or months. It was not an option for Danielle.
"She had a bone tumor that nobody wanted to wait three to four weeks to do any egg freezing," said Dr. Ginsberg.
During a 30 minute laporoscopic procedure, surgeons removed a tiny piece of ovarian tissue from the cortex, an area rich in egg follicles. The cells will be stored until Danielle is ready for the possibility of parenthood.
"There's a ray of hope out there. Nothing's guaranteed. If she isn't able to have babies on hew own, there's something out there that may work," said Danielle's mother.
"I do want to have kids. I've already thought about that. I do want to have kids and a family," said Danielle.
The procedure is still experimental and according to Dr. Ginsberg it is available only through the research program. So far it has resulted in just a handful of pregnancies worldwide.
Dr. Kat Lin is part of the study locally