Around the Archdiocese

16-year-old facing cancer with faith and courage

By Jill Kruse-Domeyer
Witness Editorial Assistant

DUBUQUE — Two months ago, Isabella Auer received a devastating diagnosis when she was told she had an inoperable brain tumor for which there was no cure. But Isabella, who is only 16 years old, has been facing her illness with great courage, drawing strength from the prayers of others and inspiring all who know her with her rock-solid faith.

Isabella is the daughter of David and Misty Auer of Dubuque. She and her parents and three younger brothers attend Mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in nearby East Dubuque, Illinois.

Prior to her cancer diagnosis this spring, Isabella, who is homeschooled, was in the 10th grade and had participated in such extracurricular activities as piano and theater. She has always enjoyed reading and drawing and writing, she said, and is even a published author, having written the book “Daughter of Kings” when she was just 13 years old.

Isabella has also always had a remarkably strong faith, a faith that did not waiver even when life recently took a much unexpected turn. In May, Isabella began having trouble with some everyday functions such as walking, talking and swallowing. Concerned, her parents brought her to the emergency room where an MRI revealed Isabella had a brain tumor. She was transported to Iowa City hospitals where she stayed for 11 days. A biopsy confirmed that Isabella had cancer, and she began radiation treatments.

The type of tumor that Isabella has is what is called a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, or DIPG, which is a highly aggressive form of cancer. The prognosis for a patient with DIPG is poor; Isabella said doctors told her that someone with her type of illness lives on average only nine months from diagnosis.

“I was very sick and tired and dizzy when I received the news,” Isabella said, “and I guess I’ve been processing it ever since then. You can’t really deny being sick when you’re stuck in a hospital bed and can barely move.” Since then, Isabella said, she is “just kind of taking it as it comes.”

At the end of June, Isabella finished with her radiation treatments. “The radiation really had a positive impact on my health,” she said. Other than being more tired than normal, “I’m feeling very much like my old self at the moment,” she said.

Isabella remains on a steroid to reduce brain swelling, and she hopes to soon be able to participate in a trial for a cancer drug at a hospital somewhere in the country.  If she is able to get into such a trial, she will need to stay in the hospital for 21 days and return once every three weeks for as long as she is in the trial.  Isabella and her family hope that such a treatment might be able to give her more time.

For now, though, Isabella is trying to make the most out of every single day. Through the Make a Wish Foundation, she is planning a trip, sponsored by the Eagles Club, to go to Washington state to visit a friend later this summer. The friend is another young woman who she has communicated with via an online messaging board as part of a program with her school curriculum, but the two have never met face to face before. “I’m very excited about this trip!” Isabella shared.

As Isabella and her family continue to journey down the difficult path they are now on, they maintain a reliance on their Catholic faith and the prayerful support of others to sustain them.

“I’ve received so many notes and messages from people who are praying for me,” Isabella said. “I’ve been told by some doctors that I’m doing remarkably well with my state of mind, and I think it’s entirely from all the prayers and from my faith.”

“I don’t know how anyone would go through this without faith,” added her mother, Misty. “It is literally saving us and carrying us. We can truly feel all the prayers lifting us up, all the support from people.”

Misty said she and her family are grateful to God for taking care of them — “He knows this is way too big for us to carry on our own,” she said — and for all the supportive prayers they have received from people they know and even from strangers.

And, she said, they welcome additional prayers as well. “I would ask for anyone reading (this Witness article) to pray for Isabella, to pray for us,” Misty said, “and for all people going through any kind of difficulty like this.”

As for her daughter, Misty said, “she absolutely inspires me!” “It’s not like she’s happy about this. She has her angry moments. But she’s just like, ‘this is what it is,’ and she’s just trooping right through it. And she is filled with this joy, a joy that wasn’t even necessarily there before.”

“She is amazing,” Misty said of Isabella. “She amazes me.”


A recent photo of Isabella Auer. The 16-year-old from Dubuque was recently diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. (Contributed photo)