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Through cancer diagnosis and treatment - Alia says "just keep smiling"

In the days leading up to April 13, 2018, 16-year-old Alia of Nanaimo BC, recalls how her right arm felt brittle and weak, a feeling that she, and many teens her age, could likely brush off as growing pains.
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Alia persisted through the discomfort and carried on with her daily routine until a friendly game of European handball during gym class led to a life changing discovery. ​

During gym class Alia and another classmate accidently bumped into one another and that’s when Alia felt a crack vibrate up her right arm. She was taken to Nanaimo General Hospital where she underwent a variety of tests and was eventually casted with a broken arm. Upon the request of a physician she returned to the hospital the next day and was told that a scan had come back showing abnormal bone growth and after further testing revealed she had a tumour.

“It was really confusing because I felt so healthy,” said Alia. 

Within 10 days of breaking her arm she was admitted to BC Children’s Hospital where she was formally diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, an extremely rare cancer which is also the second most common type of bone cancer in children.

“When I first came to BC Children’s I was really upset about my diagnosis and about having to leave school and miss out on the things I was looking forward to,” said Alia. “That can make being in treatment even harder, but I quickly realized that if you do little things like listen to music, dance and smile during treatment that you can keep your spirits high.”

The 16-year-old began chemotherapy immediately and within 12 weeks, the tumour in her arm had shrunk from 10 to eight inches, making her ready for surgery to remove the mass, bone and soft tissue. BC Children’s surgeons removed the humerus bone in her right arm and replaced it with a donor bone. Because the donor bone did not have blood supply to keep it alive, they removed Alia’s fibula from her left leg and laid it on top of the donor bone, from there they attached blood vessels in her shoulder area to create blood flow which allowed the fibula to grow into the donor bone. On top of her new bone is a metal plate which is fused into her shoulder for support.

Since April Alia has undergone four surgeries and 10 blood transfusions. She has responded well to treatment and in addition to further radiation, she will also go through eight more rounds of chemotherapy to complete her treatment program.

“Before my diagnosis my friends called me ‘The Doctor’ because I was always reading medical journals and I spent as much time as I could volunteering at Nanaimo General Hospital,” said Alia. “I’ve always enjoyed being at hospitals and while I didn’t expect to spend so much time here in this capacity, it’s been really interesting to learn from my health care team—I was even given the opportunity to look at my bone marrow through a microscope!”

Alia has always been interested in leadership, youth empowerment and sciences; in fact, she hopes to be a reproductive endocrinologist when she is older. “I’ve always enjoyed microbiology – and a reproductive endocrinologist combines my love for science, lab work, research and working with patients.”

Alia says that cancer can take a toll on your spirit and personality, and so it’s easy for kids to get down on themselves. Her advice is to “just keep smiling”.  

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. Learn more about how BC Children’s oncology clinic diagnose, treats and cares for young patients with cancer.  

BC Children's Hospital
Children's Health
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