On Oct. 5, 2014, Kelin Hiltbold had a heartbreaking discovery. Her 10-month-old daughter, Aubree Hiltbold, who had previously been vomiting and showing signs of mental regression, was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Doctors discovered a plum-sized grade 3 anaplastic ependymoma, a large brain tumor, in the back of her head.
To raise money for Aubree’s surgeries and other expenses, Hiltbold will hold a benefit on Saturday, May 2, at the White Cross Recreation Center in western Orange County from 4 to 8 pm. The benefit will feature a raffle for a homemade quilt made by Aubree’s great grandmother, a dinner and local bands and singers.
The diagnosis transformed Hiltbold’s life.
She had to quit her job to care for Aubree, who has difficulty with many tasks. She can’t eat food through her mouth, for instance, because she has a high chance of choking. Instead, she uses a feeding tube in her stomach to eat.
Until Aubree turns 5, she will need to have an MRI every three months. She will also have to undergo extensive therapy, including physical and speech therapy. She has had multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.
Aubree has no feeling in the right half of her face due to nerve palsy. Her right vocal cord is paralyzed, and she cannot hear in her right ear. Hiltbold believes that Aubree will require a hearing aid in her left ear because that ear may be affected by radiation treatments.
Aubree’s tumor may likely recur.
“Her tumor has a good chance in returning because she is under 5 and her brain is still growing,” Hiltbold said. “We hope and pray it won’t, but the reality is that ependymomas are aggressive and hers being a grade 3 anaplastic makes it worse.”
Hiltbold was devastated when she first heard the diagnosis.
“I remember thinking, ‘Why her? Why me? What did I do?’ I felt horrible,” she said.
However, others have helped her persevere. “The public, my neighbors, churches, and friends have been amazing,” she said. “Without them, I have no idea where I would be today.”
Angie Brown, Hiltbold’s mother, is helping run the benefit.
“As of now we are unsure what [Aubree] will need, surgery wise,” she said. “We are hoping and praying for her fast recovery. She has just now begun to stand, if only for a little while, on her own. We have been told that she will have to have tubes put in her ear. At this point we know that Aubree is such a little fighter for life, but just when we think her procedures will level off, we find out we are still a long way from the top.”
A donation page for Aubree located at youcaring.com has raised $2,760. The initial fundraising goal was $2,500. The family also has a Prayers for Aubree Facebook page. Money raised from the benefit and other fundraisers will be deposited in a bank account used solely for medical expenses and travel costs. Although Aubree’s and Hiltbold’s plane tickets will be paid for using the money, other family members’ tickets will be paid for using private funds.
Brown said that White Cross residents and others have contributed to the fundraiser. “This fundraiser has been a combination of teamwork by many people in the community, churches and beyond White Cross that [have] been touched by Aubree's spirit and fight against this rare ependymoma cancer,” she said.
Ashley Zachary, Kelin Hiltbold’s cousin, will be performing at the benefit. She plans to sing country and bluegrass songs “to help a young family who loves their daughter more than anything and to pay it forward,” she said.
“The public can help by keeping our sweet girl in their thoughts and prayers. Pray that this terrible tumor won’t return, and she will live her life in the best possible way,” Hiltbold said.