Mikayla Ansley shares her journey for Cancer Awareness Month - April 4, 2019
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
As The Citizen takes this week to shine a light on cancer awareness, including those who help fight it and those who have triumphed in the face of its challenges, it is now just over 11 years ago that Mikayla Ansley of Blyth was diagnosed with retinoblastoma before even her first birthday.
Over the last decade, Mikayla has grown into an intelligent, accomplished and cherished member of the Blyth community. But, in late 2007 she was just six months old when her mother Katie initially became concerned, thinking that her and her husband Mike’s infant daughter might have a lazy eye.
At Mikayla’s six-month checkup, the Ansleys were turned away by local doctors, assuring them it was nothing to worry about and that muscle structures often take time coming around for some babies.
The condition persisted at Mikayla’s nine-month checkup and, this time, the doctors sent the Ansleys to a pediatric optometrist to alleviate their concerns.
Living in the Waterloo area at the time, the Ansleys headed to the local pediatric optometrist, who was at the University of Waterloo. Mike took Mikayla to the appointment, which would eventually result in a panicked visit to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.
Mike says Mikayla was being examined by a young medical student at the university, when she excused herself to consult with one of her professors. They knew right away that Mikayla’s eye looked to show signs of retinoblastoma and that she needed to see a specialist as soon as possible.
Mike and Mikayla left for Toronto, picking up Katie along the way. They were escorted past a full waiting room and, after a short examination, a stream of professionals greeted the Ansleys, signalling to them that something was very wrong with their first daughter.
The hospital gave the Ansleys a day to digest the information, but called them back in later that week so Mikayla could begin chemotherapy almost immediately.
What followed was well over a year of difficult treatments, many of which were touch-and-go for a period of time.
When Mikayla was first diagnosed, the doctors told her parents that they didn’t yet know if the cancer had spread to Mikayla’s brain. In short, they said, they didn’t yet know if they were able to save Mikayla’s life.
When the Ansleys returned to the hospital, the doctors began administering a battery of tests. Most importantly, they tested her kidneys. At just under a year old, testing Mikayla’s kidneys would tell doctors whether she was strong enough to take chemotherapy at her young age.
They determined she was and they began treating her. Out of necessity, Mikayla was soon potty-trained at a very young age. Because the toxins associated with chemotherapy are expelled through the urine, Mikayla would severely burn herself if she used a diaper while undergoing chemotherapy.
Mikayla was soon spending most of her time at the hospital. Seeing as Katie had only been back from maternity leave for two weeks when Mikayla was diagnosed, she had to take a leave of absence to be with her daughter full-time. Mike continued to work, but cut his hours back to part-time to be there for his family.
As a result, a number of organizations, businesses and citizens came together to support the Ansleys during this time. Both Mike’s and Katie’s workplaces were very supportive during this time, with some of Mike’s associates even fundraising for a trip to Florida for the family during this time. The Blyth Lions Club also held a tremendously successful fundraiser, resulting in nearly $40,000 for the family.
After months of treatment, surgery and doctor visits, the Ansleys found themselves at their lowest point when they were told that Mikayla’s left eye would have to be removed, despite the extensive efforts to save it.
While it was actually Mikayla’s right eye that was first cause for concern with her mother, it was the tumours in the left eye that left doctors with no choice but to remove it.
The Ansleys felt defeated when they heard the news, but knew it was for the best. After Mikayla’s eye was removed, the doctors were able to fight back the cancer in her right eye and save it. While she has limited vision in her right eye and Mikayla is now legally blind, the doctors were able to save what they could.
In those early years, Mikayla found herself on the operating table 55 times.
While recent years have been happy ones for the Ansleys, in an interview with The Citizen, both Mike and Katie say they worry about their daughter every year when her annual checkup rolls around with concerns of a secondary onset of cancer in the back of their minds.
Despite the fact that neither Katie nor Mike had retinoblastoma when they were young, they would have passed it onto Mikayla, as it is a hereditary cancer. When Mikayla eventually has children, Katie says, there is a 50 per cent chance that she will pass it down to her children.
While it was an adjustment for Mikayla to learn how to live after the loss of her left eye and with limited vision, she has quickly become one of the brightest stars at Hullett Central Public School in Londesborough. She has won public speaking competitions through the local Legion Branch and the Lions Club and, earlier this year, winning the Lions Clubs International Peace Essay competition.
The message she shared in her essay, “Kindness Matters”, outlines the important role of kindness can play in someone’s life, whether it’s a large donation to a family in need or a smile as you pass someone on the street.
Mikayla says that living life legally blind has been tough, because that won’t be able to be changed. Meanwhile, after bearing witness to her own cancer success story, she knows it can be beaten.