Surviving and Thriving Through Childhood Cancer


Our family has been on a journey for the past four months that I never ever would have dreamed we would be on. My daughter Zoe was diagnosed back in April with Wilms’ tumor, a kidney cancer that mainly affects children. Up until the morning of April 21, when we were visiting the Riverbanks Zoo, there were no signs of her being sick at all — no fever, no difference in energy, nothing at all. While at the zoo, Zoe asked to go to the potty, and when she did I looked in the toilet and she was peeing blood.

We went straight to our pediatrician, and then to a kidney ultrasound where it was discovered there was a very large tumor on her kidney. Not only that, but it was so big it had spread to her lungs and her vena cava (a large vein that returns blood to the heart). She had Stage 4 cancer.

Zoe Tipping (left) with her parents, Courtney and Allen, and her younger sister, Sadie.

Things proceeded quickly after Zoe was diagnosed. She had 12 weeks of chemo, leading up to surgery at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital on July 24. Her kidney and the remaining tumor were removed, but a tumor still remains in her vena cava. Since surgery, she has done radiation and is currently doing chemo again. In about 9 weeks, she will have MRIs and CT Scans to see where everything is. That will help us decide if we will do further treatment or if we will start just having routine scans and bloodwork.

When Zoe was diagnosed, my husband and I talked at length about how we wanted her to know and understand as much as she could about what was going on. Don’t get me wrong, it is quite hard for a 3-year-old to understand cancer, but from the beginning we have tried in any way we possibly can to explain her tumor, her treatment, and the details of what would happen.

In the beginning, Zoe was very nervous at times and asked lots and lots of questions. At first during her treatment, she would be more tired and would get a little frustrated, but she adapted pretty quickly. In a way it’s sad now, but she is used to things. The child life specialist helped tremendously with this. It was quite a transition when she lost her hair, but she then became proud of it.

Zoe has a very vibrant, outgoing personality; she definitely doesn’t meet a stranger.  It has been neat to watch her mature as she goes through treatment, mainly through different things that have been done to her.

All Zoe’s treatments have been done at Palmetto Health Children’s Hospital except for surgery. When she was first diagnosed, she was  in the hospital for about 3 weeks, but she hasn’t been in-patient since then, so most everything has been done in the Hematology/Oncology Clinic. Those folks have become like family.

The Lord has been present through every single detail in many many ways. I have truly learned the meaning of endurance and of relying on something bigger than myself to persevere. Zoe is the bravest kiddo I know! She has such a light in her eyes that hasn’t faded. We have also grown as a family, in learning how to adjust in this season of life.

The Lord has provided such a genuine community around us, here in Columbia as well as around the world! Our church, Midtown Fellowship, has been great family to us.

Things that have been helpful along the way: meals, for sure. Not having to think about cooking dinner in the beginning was wonderful, and people helping to get groceries from time to time is always a boost.  Response of prayer and love via social media is such a comfort for us, because we know that folks are praying! It is helpful for me for folks to ask questions and want to know more about what is going on with Zoe. Having a date night with my husband, Allen, is huge.

Having loving staff at the clinic is huge because we are there so much. We never thought we would be a part of a community of families whose children were going through this, but we love the people we’ve met at the clinic. Even though all the stories are different, we have a unique bond.

One staple in our weekly rountine has also been Pelican’s SnoBalls snow cones! No matter Zoe’s appetite, she loves a snow cone.

We aren’t finished yet. We will keep fighting as Zoe continues to go through treatment.


Courtney Tipping is the mother of 2 girls here on earth and 6 in heaven (she and her husband lost sextuplets in March 2009). Her husband, Allen Tipping, is one of the pastors of Midtown Fellowship in downtown Columbia. The Tippings came to Columbia in 2005 with a church-planting team. They love living downtown and are especially thankful to be so close to Palmetto Richland.  Their daughter Zoe turned 4 this month, and her sister, Sadie, is 18 months. Follow their journey at


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