Cambridge girl, 4, youngest to be diagnosed with breast cancer
Aleisha Hunter was diagnosed with breast cancer and is now recovering nicely after undergoing a full left-breast mastectomy on June 11.
Who wouldn’t find this victory over the wretched disease remarkable? But Aleisha is not a typical breast cancer survivor. She just turned four years old this week, making her the youngest in Canada to be diagnosed with breast cancer.
While her mother Melanie Hunter describes the nightmarish ordeal that hijacked her happy-go-lucky daughter’s life in recent months, little blond-haired Aleisha doesn’t pay much attention to the conversation. Instead, she nibbles on pink cookie wafers and crawls under the table to seek out toes to tickle. Giggles ensue, followed by more tickles.
Life is finally finding its way back to normal for the Cambridge mother and daughter. Even the novelty of the scar on Aleisha’s chest has worn off.
“For a while, she showed everybody,” said Hunter.
It’s a little easier to talk about how cancer had the then-three year old in its grip now that the surgery is over. It was so successful doctors believe no follow-up treatment will be required.
“She had breast cancer but she was lucky,” explained Hunter.
“She didn’t need chemo or radiation.”
Aleisha suffered from a slow-growing type of breast cancer known as juvenile secretory breast carcinoma, which causes a tumour to grow within a shell-like sack. Signs of the developing disease were there when the tot was only two years old.
“I noticed a lump,” said Hunter.
Doctors’ visits wrote off the changes as typical hormonal developments. However, Hunter wasn’t about to give up on a hunch that this wasn’t just normal stuff. She went to McMaster Children’s Hospital, but said doctors were reluctant to order an MRI, suggesting Aleisha was experiencing a lymphomatic malformation.
By last December, discolourations started to surface, much like that of bruised skin, as well as some tenderness in Aleisha’s left breast. And the lump started to grow.
“It kept getting bigger and bigger,” said Hunter.
She decided she needed to advocate more for her daughter, so during a regular appointment with an orthodontist at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital, Hunter took Aleisha to the emergency room and asked to be seen by a vascular malformation clinic member. She refused to leave until someone did something. Aleisha was seen by a breast specialist.
“She looked at it and knew there was something wrong with it,” said Hunter.
The doctor ordered an MRI on May 25, followed by a biopsy days later.
As if waiting for news wasn’t difficult enough, the lump in Aleisha’s breast had swollen from walnut-sized to the size of a large plum, aggravated by the biopsy surgery. And she was in immense pain and had to have morphine. Hunter had to beg to try to make her eat something, anything.
Then the call Hunter could never be prepared for came less than a week later. An oncologist said Aleisha, at the tender age of three, had breast cancer.
“Your heart just kind of stops,” said Hunter.
“I was numb. I just sat there.”
Even as supportive friends and family tried to comfort her, Hunter found it hard to believe it was all real. And it was happening to her little girl.
“They were talking to me, but I just didn’t hear them.”
After the successful two-hour surgery, Aleisha is healing well but is too young to fully understand what she has been through.
“She just knows they did the surgery and they made her better,” said Hunter.
When she’s older, she’ll have breast implant surgery.
For now, Hunter and Aleisha are enjoying day trips in search of some much-needed relaxation. But even though Aleisha is herself again, worry of what could be still weighs heavily on Hunter’s mind. A recent fever sent the pair running to Cambridge Memorial Hospital to get checked out.
“I’m always on edge. You always believe the worst.”
Hunter’s faith and strength, however, have been bolstered thanks to support from friends, as well as co-workers at Cambridge’s Hilltop Manor nursing home on Elliott Street in Galt. Not only is the manor holding a birthday party for Aleisha this Saturday, the home is organizing a barbecue fundraiser from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to raise money for cancer research.Several employees are participating in Toronto’s Weekend to End Breast Cancer walk in September and need to raise $2,000 each to participate. The walk will benefit cancer programs at Princess Margaret Hospital.
Hunter, who will be at the finish line for that event, will also be participating in the local CIBC Run for the Cure event in October under a Team Aleisha banner.
Although cancer entered their lives like a hurricane, Hunter believes support has kept that wind at her back. A trust fund has even been set up in Aleisha’s name. The tot’s battle against cancer has had a profound effect on those around her.
“It really moved a lot of people.”
For more information about Hilltop Manor’s fundraiser this Saturday or Aleisha’s trust fund, contact the nursing home at 621-3067.