Nazaria’s story

When Nazaria Hooks was 12 years old, she was focusing on polishing her singing and acting skills. She had also been managing a chronic inflammatory skin condition called hidradenitis suppurativa since she was four. This condition requires Nazaria to have IV infusion therapy every month. But in fall 2021, her life hit an unexpected plot twist — one that Nazaria and her family feared could threaten her future.

During Nazaria’s regular checkup, a Children’s Wisconsin endocrinologist found a lump on Nazaria’s neck. She ordered an ultrasound, bloodwork and a needle biopsy. Nazaria’s parents were in Chicago and just about to catch a flight for a getaway to Mexico when Nazaria’s doctor called with stunning news: Nazaria had thyroid cancer.

Nazaria’s mom is a family physician and was surprised because she knew papillary thyroid cancer was rare in young kids. The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland in the neck, affects many bodily functions, including how fast you burn calories and how fast your heart beats. But Nazaria had no symptoms, making the news even more of a shock.

The week after Thanksgiving, the family met with a pediatric otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) at Children’s to discuss the plans to remove Nazaria’s thyroid and surrounding lymph nodes.

The big surgery day finally came after being delayed due to COVID-19. Nazaria’s father still gets emotional when he thinks about those 6.5 hours waiting for his daughter to come out of the operating room. Both parents were grateful that Children’s staff updated them every hour or so.

Their Children’s Wisconsin doctor reassured them that everything went well and that no nerves were harmed around Nazaria’s vocal cords. After a night in the hospital (where she enjoyed the popsicles), Nazaria went home to recover.

“The services they provide are wonderful. From the waiting area to the board they have for parents to help you track your child’s surgery — all of that contributed to helping us feel confident and comfortable with Nazaria’s care,” her mom said. “The nurses and doctors are so attentive and child-focused.”

Once at home, Nazaria’s neck swelled — a reaction to the surgical sutures. After her mom emailed their doctor to alert him, her phone rang minutes later. It was their doctor calling back even though it was 10:30 p.m. He instructed them to watch the swelling and visit the hospital if it worsens. Unfortunately, Nazaria’s swelling continued, so they headed to the Children's Emergency Department and Trauma Center. Their doctor met them there, and Nazaria’s swelling stopped after some medication.

During the early part of her recovery, Nazaria’s stamina was so low that she slept 18 hours a day. She started a medication called Synthroid that works in place of the thyroid, and eventually, her energy rebounded.

Today, Nazaria is 14 years old and serving as the 2024 Children’s Miracle Network local champion, representing Children’s Wisconsin. She loves hanging out with friends, traveling and living life to the fullest. Her favorite place she’s traveled so far is Italy. Thanks to Children’s Wisconsin, her cancer story has a happy ending, and she’s on to her next global adventure.

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