A tough cowgirl perseveres

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

SNOWMASS Four-year-old Cheyenne Stoner has already endured two surgeries for a brain tumor during her short life, but the red-headed girl with an adorable smile says the experience wasn’t all that scary.”I’m a tough cowgirl,” she explained one day last week while taking a break from activities at Blue Lake Preschool.Indeed she is. Cheyenne lives with her parents, Chris and Todd, and brother Colton on a 1,800-acre ranch in Snowmass. Todd is ranch manager for Connie Harvey, so the family shares the spread with cows, horses and wildlife. Cheyenne has already developed the fierce determination of a cowgirl facing circumstances that would make a weak-willed person crumble.She was 2 1/2 years old when doctors discovered a large tumor on part of her brain. Cheyenne was sitting in circle time at the preschool when she fell over. Teachers expressed their concern about balance to her mom. Chris, being an emergency medical technician for years, suspected it might just be an inner ear infection. She took Cheyenne to their pediatrician the next day, and a CAT scan indicated the presence of a tumor. They traveled overnight to Children’s Hospital in Colorado Springs for confirmation of the discovery, and Cheyenne had surgery that same day.

Doctors found a 10-centimeter brain tumor, large enough that it was damming the flow of spinal fluids. Cheyenne was affected by juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, one of the more common types of brain tumors but still one that afflicts only 700 people per year, Chris learned. Her tumor was benign and a type that doesn’t tend to spread, said Chris, who handles medical billing for Orthopedic Associates.The challenge of the surgery was removing the tumor without affecting the part of Cheyenne’s brain that handles short-term memory.”As a parent, it floors you,” Chris said. “We’re a faithful family, so we had a lot of prayers.” And a lot of people praying for them. In the Internet age, prayer chains circulated around the world almost immediately, Chris said.The first surgery seemed to remove all the tumor, and Cheyenne was soon able to go about the business of being a kid. She likes to ride her horse, a black mustang named Sambo, and her bicycle. She wants to learn how to ice skate.”We do everything with a helmet on,” Chris said.To the family’s horror, a routine MRI in December showed the tumor had returned. So 20 months after the first surgery, Cheyenne underwent a second procedure on Jan 10.”We thought it was gone and wasn’t coming back,” Chris said.The tough cowgirl was in the hospital for only three days, amazing well-wishers who intended to send balloons or flowers but found she had already been released.

Chris noted that surgeons used the same incision for the second surgery. Cheyenne’s locks didn’t even have to be shaved. Her doctors found a much smaller tumor and were extremely confident that they removed it all. An MRI after the surgery was promising. Cheyenne returns for another look in April. If that goes well, the next check will be in six months.”You keep watching MRIs and cross your fingers,” Chris said.The Kid’s Wish Network, a national organization headquartered in Florida, recognized Cheyenne for her bravery by selecting her as “Hero of the Month” for February. A nurse at Children’s Hospital nominated her. Kids Wish Network helps grant the wishes of children who are facing life-threatening medical issues.Cheyenne received a sweatshirt and certificate proclaiming her Hero of the Month, as well as a $250 gift card to Wal-Mart. On a shopping spree with her parents, Cheyenne picked a pink Princess TV with a DVD player. She selected “Alice in Wonderland” and “Anastasia” as her first movies. Cheyenne even let her brother Colton pick a couple of presents for himself. (He picked a keyboard with a microphone.)Cheyenne is back with her friends at Blue Lake Preschool. They pulled for her by sending cards during both surgeries. For the folks at the preschool, it was like having a family member facing the surgery, said director Michelle Oger. Cheyenne has attended the preschool for three and a half of her four years. Next year, Cheyenne starts kindergarten at Basalt.Chris and Todd are confident Cheyenne’s going to be fine – with a little help from her friends.”It’s not all your strength,” Chris reminded Cheyenne. “By God’s grace you’re still here.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is