5-Year-Old Relearns to Walk and Talk After Risky Surgery to Remove 'Lemon'-Sized Tumor

Larry Coats, of Enid, Oklahoma, remembers the very moment last summer he got the news that would change his granddaughter, 5-year-old Rebecca Roper’s, life.

“At daycare one day they called and said, ‘Rebecca can hardly walk,’ ” Coats recalled to KFOR.

Coats took Roper to a hospital where he learned she had a glioma, a type of brain tumor.

“They did a CAT scan on her and sure enough she had a tumor on her brain stem that was the size of a lemon,” Coats told KFOR.

So, the little girl underwent the invasive surgery to remove the tumor, Dr. Abhishek Bavle from Jimmy Everest Cancer Center told KFOR. Bavle said that a portion of the tumor was left inside, as it was too deep in the girl’s brain stem.

After the operation, Coats and doctors waited to see whether Roper’s health would improve, as she has had to relearn to walk and talk as a result of her illness. However, Coats told KFOR that he got a pleasant surprise weeks after the surgery as he and Roper sat watching cartoons.

“A commercial came on for Skechers light-up sneakers,” Coats recalled. “She said ‘Papa, I want those.’ I said okay. Then I thought, ‘Wait, what did you say?’ “

Now, Roper is recovering well with the help of physical therapy, the doting grandfather told KFOR. And although she is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for the tumor, doctors said her glioma is not aggressive.

Although the type of glioma Roper had is unclear, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma — a type of brain tumor found on a part of the stem called the pons — mostly affects children aged 5 to 9, according to Boston Children’s Hospital. DIPG makes up 10 to 15 percent of all brain tumors in children, with up to 300 children diagnosed each year, according to DIPG.org.

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Symptoms of DIPG include weakness in the arms and legs, trouble walking, and difficulty controlling speech, facial expressions, swallowing and chewing, according to Boston Children’s Hospital.

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Earlier this year, Adalynn Joy Sooter died 19 months after she was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma in November 2016. The 4-year-old’s tragic death, on June 3, came after her parents’ desperate search for cancer treatment, in an ordeal that captured the nation’s attention.

“Grief seems to come in waves, triggered by places, people, things, songs, even smells,” Sooter’s father, Matt, told PEOPLE in September. “We’ve tried to stay busy to help keep from dwelling on it full time.”

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