Life is on hold as pro angler Miles Burghoff and wife, Katie, hold onto hope for the life of their 10-month-old daughter, Rylee.
Doctors discovered a tumor in Rylee’s abdomen, believed to be a rare childhood cancer. Hearing that news, Burghoff abruptly left the St. Croix Bassmaster Open at Lake Okeechobee. It was to be the opener for his second season of Tackle Warehouse Bassmaster Elite Qualifiers, but family comes first.
The Burghoffs have since moved from Dayton, Tenn., to Memphis’ St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, one of the world’s leading treatment centers for pediatric cancer.
“I don’t know how long we’re going to have to live here full-time,” Burghoff said after their first consultation with doctors Monday morning. “It’s around an 18-month to two-year program. They can’t really give a good prognosis until all the tests are done. They need to do a biopsy.
“They are pretty positive, because of all the markers, where it started, her age, it will be classified as a neuroblastoma. The tests will continue and then we work on a treatment plan.”
There are about 800 children diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year in the U.S., rated from low to high risk. Each requires different treatment plans, which can include surgery, chemotherapy, stem-cell rescue, immunotherapy and radiation therapy.
Burghoff was preparing for Okeechobee but returned home when Rylee fell ill and was taken to a Knoxville emergency room. Burghoff missed Saturday and Sunday of practice, but Rylee was doing better after a round of antibiotics, so he made the 12-hour drive to Clewiston.
“Everybody was saying things are going to be fine. I went back down to Florida and practiced Monday,” he said.
On Tuesday, Katie took Rylee in for an ultrasound, where doctors discovered the tumor.
“I put the boat on the trailer and headed home,” he said. “When I got back, we got thrown into the fire of tests.”
Arriving home at 11 p.m., Burghoff had a 4 a.m. wakeup to travel to Knoxville for an MRI, CT scans, more testing and consultation. The fees piled up but that was the least of his concerns.
“We pay for insurance through the open marketplace,” he said. “The cost that we incurred, I didn’t know until they started handing me bills that we were out of network. I really didn’t care, just take care of my daughter.”
Burghoff’s sister began a GoFundMe for Rylee Burghoff’s Cancer Journey, and fellow bass anglers donating $25, $100, $500 have helped raise more than $100,000. As Katie had to resign her position as a dental hygienist and Miles can’t fish, the Burghoffs will need it and more.
“It’s exceeded expectations,” he said. “I’m just blown away by it. We’ve got a lot of expenses. The GoFundMe has taken a lot of the stress out of that. It really is incredible.
“We’ve got more support than I could have imagined. Family, friends, fans, you couldn’t want for more support.”
After learning it was cancer, Burghoff applied for Rylee to be in a clinical trial at St. Jude and she was quickly accepted. Burghoff said they are fortunate there are hospitals like St. Jude, which will bill insurance companies but never ask the family for co-pays or deductibles, even though some treatments can surpass $1 million.
“The good news is, St. Jude doesn’t charge you for anything. That’s a beautiful thing,” he said. “They provide a place for you to stay. It’s been amazing.”
Although Doppler, the family’s beloved Corgi, has to stay with friends, the Burghoffs feel blessed despite the future’s unknowns. Burghoff said Rylee, despite trying to get over a cold now, is a “happy little baby.”
“She’s definitely skeptical of anybody wearing a pair of scrubs – she’s been poked a lot, probably 15 vials of blood taken from her in the last six days,” he said. “In the short term, it’s all hands on deck, figuring out this process with St. Jude.”
Along with donations, there’s sure to be a flood of prayers for Rylee from the Bassmaster family of anglers.
“I appreciate it, all the helping. I feel very fortunate,” he said. “The only thing I want to work out is this little girl standing in front of me.”