Before the diagnosis, her parents, Kirsten and Jeffrey Hicks, noticed that Courtney had trouble walking and would clumsily bump into things. When she had an accident with the corner of a table, they knew it was time to seek medical attention.
A golf ball-size, cancerous tumor was blocking spinal fluid, the MRI scan revealed. After brain surgery on May 18 at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Courtney temporarily lost her ability to speak.
"Basically, the body shut down," her mother said. "From May 20 she couldn't communicate, couldn't talk. She could move her left finger. That's the way we talked for almost a month-and-a-half, through fingers."
Today, as a result of determination and perseverance, Courtney is regaining her speech and ability to write, though now with her left hand. She is also learning to walk again.
Since December, Courtney has attended Sawyer Road Elementary School as a third-grader. She spends much of her time in a wheelchair, but that hasn't stopped her from making lots of friends. Her classmates argue over who can be the "Courtney Assistant" for the day. And before she began school, 9-year-old Wendy Nabichoque wrote her a letter, assuring her they would become great friends.
"She is such a joy to have, not only in our classroom, but in our lives as well," her teacher, Tamie Clark, said. Clark took special training in order to teach Courtney while she was homebound.
Because cancer cells remain, Courtney has had to undergo 30 radiation treatments. She also must endure 48 weeks of chemotherapy. "We are pushing her as hard as we can to overcome this," said Kirsten. "We've got to get her to the point where she can live by herself."
Chemotherapy forces Courtney to miss going to school sometimes. However, Sawyer Road is using a software application to allow her to see and interact with her class over the Internet when she is home.
"We set up with the technology department to be able to do Skype if she's going to have an extended period of time when she needs instruction and wants to interact with her class," said Sawyer Road Principal Jill Sims.
Art, P.E. and music are some of Courtney's favorite school activities, she said. However, one word summed up her response when asked about her goal for the future: "Walk."
As a result of her determination, Courtney was recently selected to serve as a poster child for the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children Inc., an Atlanta-based nonprofit. She is one of four children to serve in the role statewide.
"What a great little girl. She just has the biggest smile," said Mary Campbell, executive director of the foundation.
Courtney, along with Cheyla McConnell, 11, of Marietta; Andrew West, 9, of Talking Rock; and Sterling Ayers, 8, of Stone Mountain, will be featured in promotional materials for the foundation's biggest yearly fundraiser, the J. Smith Lanier & Co. Charity Classic ProAm Golf Tournament on May 4 at the Chateau Elan Golf Club in Braselton.
Donations to the Brain Tumor Foundation may be made by visiting its Web site at www.braintumorkids.org.