A local family is facing a battle they never could have envisioned. On Nov. 17, Todd Carballo and Jessica Spaulding of Waldoboro received devastating news from their daughter’s pediatrician. Her stomach pains weren’t from just a tummy ache. They were the result of a softball-sized mass in the 3-year-old’s stomach.

Their pediatrician told them the tumor was pressing on Aaliyah Carballo’s kidneys and liver and they needed to go home, pack a bag, and head to Portland to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center immediately. Doctors in Portland had already been notified and knew the family would be on their way.

Doctors diagnosed Aaliyah with neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer that develops in nerve tissue outside of the central nervous system. It usually begins in the adrenal gland on top of the kidney, but it can be found anywhere along the spine, according to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. According to the foundation, where hospital staff has referred the family for information and resources, it is the most common extracranial solid tumor that affects children. Aaliyah and her parents have been at Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital since Nov. 17.

For about four days before the diagnosis, Aaliyah had been complaining of stomach pain and Todd and Jessica took her to the emergency room at Pen Bay Medical Center. The parents said they were told it was constipation and to give her MiraLAX to help. The pain didn’t subside and they returned to the ER. On their third visit, a scan was done of her stomach, Todd said, and the next day when they went to Pen Bay Pediatrics for an appointment, Dr. William Stephenson told them about the tumor.

“We were in shock,” Todd said. “Just a week ago she had been fine.”

When Stephenson told him about the tumor, he was holding Aaliyah and had to set her down. He walked into the hallway and broke down crying. He said he didn’t want his daughter to see him cry.

“We tried to gather ourselves and be strong for her,” Jessica said. Since learning of the diagnosis, they have been up and down emotionally, she said. The cancer is in Aaliyah’s kidneys, liver and bones, they said.

Doctors have walked the family through the long road of treatment that lies ahead of Aaliyah. So far, she has had bone marrow biopsies, an ultrasound of her heart and two surgeries within three days to place two ports in her neck and chest, where chemotherapy is being administered. Aaliyah will need six cycles of chemotherapy; she receives two types of chemotherapy per cycle and the cycles last five days, her mom and dad said. At the end of each cycle, Aaliyah will be allowed to return home, but will have to travel between their home in Waldoboro to Portland and Scarborough every two weeks for additional cycles and monitoring.

After her second cycle of chemo, the family will travel to Boston, where Aaliyah will have a procedure called pheresis, where blood is withdrawn from a donor, a portion is separated and retained and the remainder is retransfused into the donor. They will retrieve her stem cells, her parents said, and Aaliyah will get them back when she eventually has a bone marrow transplant.

The goal of the six chemotherapy cycles is to shrink the tumor, her parents said, so that it can then be removed. After surgery to remove the tumor, Aaliyah will receive radiation treatment, followed by the bone marrow transplant and then undergo antibody therapies, they said. The entire process – in a best-case scenario – will take 18 months. It could take up to two years, they said.

“She will lose her hair at some point,” Jessica said. “It’s a 60 to 65 percent survival rate right now. The doctors say that she’s not a number. Their goal is to cure her, and they say they know they can.”

“As long as her body responds to the chemo and it does its job,” her father said. “It’s going to be a long two-year fight, and then some.”

They were told there was nothing they could have done to prevent Aaliyah’s diagnosis – that this isn’t something that was inherited. It was “bad luck,” they said the doctors told them.

The family spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. Aaliyah’s fourth birthday is Thursday, Dec. 8, and they are hopeful they will be home for it. They expect to be back at the hospital over Christmas, as well. They have been able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Portland during this time, but Todd has chosen to spend every night sleeping in a chair in Aaliyah’s room so that she isn’t alone.

The outpouring of prayers and support from friends and family has helped hold them together, they said. Aaliyah’s siblings – Olivia Spaulding, Katie Hall and Ethan Carballo, who are 22, 19 and 13, respectively – have all visited their little sister to spend time together and play with her. Olivia started a public Facebook page, Aaliyah Strong, to share photos and keep friends and family updated on Aaliyah.

Thanksgiving day Todd wrote on the page: “…Please everyone please pray for my other children, Ethan, Katie and Olivia. They are having a tough time seeing their baby sister go through this, but they have been amazing. Aaliyah couldn't ask for more loving, kind, protective brother and sisters so please send prayers for them as well. Thank you all, God bless and enjoy this holiday and hug your children a lil tighter cause things can change in an instant as they have for us. #AaliyahStrong #CancerSucks.”

Todd said they’ve received messages of hope and prayers from as far as California and Florida and even the United Kingdom from friends he made during his time in the military. Today, he is a sternman and goes lobstering with David Reed off the island of Criehaven, but hasn’t been able to work since Aaliyah became sick. Jessica is a stay-at-home mom to Aaliyah.

With a rough year financially and now not being able to work, Todd isn’t sure how they’ll be able to give their children a Christmas and handle other household bills. They also are struggling with reliable transportation. The radiator went in the vehicle they drove to Portland and their second car at home is not in good enough condition for the upcoming trips they’ll have to make between home, Portland and Boston over the next two years as they fight alongside Aaliyah.

“We’re stressed out, all around,” Todd said. “I don’t want people thinking I’m looking for charity, because I’ve worked for everything I’ve ever had. It’s hard to even ask for help.”

If anything, the family could use a Christmas miracle.

“Some days are good. Some days are bad,” Jessica said. “We have each other and we have plenty of people who are supporting us.”

Friends have set up a gofundme page at gofundme.com/aaliyahs-medical-expense-fund and as of Thursday, Dec. 1, $5,355 has been raised. Other friends are working on making sure Aaliyah and the other children who will be in the hospital over Christmas receive presents. The wish list from the hospital can be found online at https://valleygrange.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/bbch-wish-list-and-donation-form.pdf.

The family expressed their gratude to everyone for their support, love and kind words.

“We just want our baby safe,” Todd said. “I’m just so scared. I can’t lose her.”