LIVINGSTON, NJ — Ritochka “Rita” Sambuk, a 5-year-old Livingston resident who recently experienced a terrible headache while on vacation that caused her to wake up with slurred speech and coordination issues, has since received a serious diagnosis. Doctors have determined that Rita has a diffuse tumor called “pontine glioma,” which is described as an aggressive, non-operable tumor found at the base of the brain.
The community is now rallying to support the family during this time of need through a GoFundMe page designed to update friends on Rita’s condition and to help her now-unemployed parents “afford more specialized care opportunities” so that “this little girl may have a fighting chance.”
“I'm grateful for everything,” said Rita’s mother, Olga Belkina, who expressed gratitude for the people praying for her family and offering their support. “I can't convey how powerful the support feels.”
When Rita was showing these unusal behaviors during her mid-July vacation, she and her mother returned home immediately for a computed tomography (CT) scan and some other tests. They spent the night near the hospital so that Rita could have an MRI and spinal tap the next day. The doctors discovered the tumor, and explained that it’s considered non-operable due to its location in her body.
According to Belkina, her daughter has been to four hospitals in the last three weeks and many specialists have been contacted on her behalf. Rita is also currently enrolled in two research trials, both of which are less than two years old but have had some positive results despite being in early phases, Belkina explained.
This week, Rita will begin radiology treatment and will also be taking an experimental drug from the New York University Langone Trial that is intended to boost the effect of the radiology, according to her mother. They also plan to have a consultation with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as soon as possible.
Yuliya Dyuh, a close friend who created the GoFundMe on behalf of the family, shared a statement from Belkina that explains what doctors said about Rita’s biopsy.
“The biopsy showed the mutation of the gene k27,” said Rita's mother. “The mutation occurred about a year ago. The reasons are unknown. It's not genetic, it's not radiation, it's not environment, not food, nothing. This gene is responsible for the protein shell of nerve endings. Perhaps nature is looking for better protection and chooses the healthiest and most talented [people].”
Dyuh described Rita as “a very sweet girl” and said she is “like a little angel.” Rita, who is also very artistic and plays piano, was supposed to begin kindergarten at Burnet Hill Elementary School next month.
“I am proud of her,” said Rita’s mother, describing her daughter as talented, beautiful and fun. “She is very enduring. I will do my best and the impossible. We believe in the miracle and strength of my daughter.”
She also thanked her friends, loved ones and her son, Dmitry, who recently graduated from Livingston High School.
“You all have big hearts,” she said. “May all our energy connect and help my daughter. We are fighting.”
Click here to help support Rita and her family.