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5-year-old’s swollen cheek leads to life-changing diagnosis

POLK CITY, Iowa – What started out as a little bump on a 5-year-old Iowa girl's cheek turned into something much more serious, and now her parents want to share their story to raise awareness.

Harper Stribe started her summer with a swollen cheek, and her mother, Nicole Stribe, told WHO, "It had started one night out of the blue, and we thought it was a bug bite."

Doctors thought it was a viral infection at first, but when the bump got bigger and started hurting, her parents knew something else was wrong. "As a parent, you don't go to the cancer word, but unfortunately, that's where it went," Nicole said.

Harper has embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma of the cheek, which is cancer that most commonly affects soft tissue in children. She started chemotherapy right away in Iowa City and underwent six weeks of radiation.

"She obviously has a long road yet, but over the course of the last ten weeks, she's proven that she'll persevere through it all," said father Nolan Stribe.

The family's life changed overnight – they now take weekly trips to Iowa City and have a bin full of medication.

The Stribes want people to know cancer can happen to anyone and more funding is needed to find a cure. “You know, 1 in 5 kids that gets cancer passes away, and of those kids that don't, and survive, two thirds of them have some sort of life long chronic ailment, and so there's got to be some better research out there to help these kids."

In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, her parents said they want others to know what about organizations researching the disease, such as St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Cure Search and Alex's Lemonade Stand. Other organizations, like Children's Cancer Connection, help families on their cancer journeys.