Zay Zay the Superhero

Published in Promise & Progress - Fall 2020/2021

Ezaylen’s “Zay Zay’s” mom, Phyllice, instinctively knew something serious was wrong when 2-year-old Zay Zay experienced persistent high fevers and constant ear infections. Although her mother’s intuition was correct, she never imagined that the fevers and a protruding tummy she chalked up to a healthy appetite were actually Wilms tumor, a type of pediatric kidney cancer. Two-year-old Zay Zay was diagnosed with stage III cancer, and the tumor was occupying a shocking 90% of his kidney.

After chemotherapy and surgery to remove the diseased kidney, his Children’s National doctors recommended radiation therapy as part of the treatment plan and referred him to Matthew Ladra, director of pediatric radiation oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

“I was very concerned at first,” says Phyllice, who was aware of the side effects radiation treatment can have on young, growing children. “My husband convinced me we had to do it,” she says. The treatment would help make sure no cancer cells survived.”

It’s a decision Phyllice has never regretted. “Johns Hopkins is awesome,” she says. “Dr. Ladra is a great doctor. We had a good connection from the start, and everyone –doctors, nurses, child life teachers—stayed in constant communication with us, explaining the therapy and involving us every step of the way.”

One year later, Zay Zay’s treatments appear to be working, she says. He still has more chemotherapy ahead of him, but he has lived up to his love of superheroes and her nickname for him—little firecracker. She says, “He’s small but powerful.”