Judging from the way she raced through her Langley home with older sister Maya in hot pursuit, there’s no slowing down three-year-old Zoe Dornan.
Even after Zoe lost her left eye to cancer.
At five months old, Zoe was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma; cancerous tumors of the retina, in both her eyes.
At the time of Zoe’s diagnosis, her left retina was 80 per cent tumorous and there were multiple tumors in her right eye, her mom Kelly explained.
“When she was first diagnosed, there were risks of the tumors getting out of the eye and affecting other areas,” her dad Sean noted.
The family can thank eight-year-old Maya and her amateur photography skills for the early diagnosis.
Using a point-and-shoot camera she received for Christmas that year, the then five-year-old snapped several pictures of her infant sister.
“She had a Valentine’s Day party with all of her friends over, and they were all taking pictures of the baby sister,” Sean said.
While Sean and Maya perused through the pictures on the family’s computer a few days later, dad noticed something odd.
“A lot of the pictures, in one eye, instead of red eye, it was white,” Sean said.
Sean, who does service and clinical training for doctors who do laser eye surgery, knew right away something was wrong.
“I didn’t know specifically what it was,” Sean said. “There’s a few things that it could have been, this being the worst. I wanted to take her in and have her seen immediately by an ophthalmologist.”
Sean could tell by the expression on the ophthalmologist’s face that the diagnosis wasn’t good.
“Sean said his face dropped,” Kelly related.
The next morning, the family was at BC Children’s Hospital, where they saw the head of pediatric ophthalmology, who confirmed the diagnosis on Feb. 19, 2009.
The diagnosis happened to fall on Kelly’s 35th birthday.
From there, the family was sent to the ocular oncologist at Vancouver General Hospital.
“We were in shock, because it is very rare,” Sean said. “It was like, ‘There are so few cases, how could this happen to us?’”
Kelly felt guilty.
“Her form is considered genetic when it’s in both eyes,” Kelly said. “She’s Case Zero. It started with her. There’s no family history. I was completely devastated.”
Within days, Zoe was undergoing chemotherapy.
“There was no time to feel really sorry for yourselves because you’re going from one appointment to the next, to the next,” Sean said.
After Zoe underwent six rounds of chemo and made four trips to SickKids hospital in Toronto, the family was told by doctors that Zoe’s left eye had to be removed to stop the tumor from spreading through the optic nerve to the brain.
Zoe’s left eye was removed on Canada Day, July 1, 2010.
An oncologist at BC Children’s Hospital and an ocular oncologist at VGH are currently working together on Zoe’s case.
The doctors are now in a monitoring stage to check for tumors; Kelly said there are multiple tumors that need to be checked for regrowth.
“They say that once she reached the age she is now, she’s not likely to develop any new tumors,” Sean said.
“It’s strictly a young child’s cancer. Depending on the year, there are 20 to 25 cases each year in Canada, in which half are affecting both eyes. So it’s very rare.”
Her parents hope Zoe’s future is bright.
“She can see very well out of her one eye,” Sean said.
“Doctors have always told us she can drive a car, she can play sports, she can do anything with one eye,” Kelly said.
“So hopefully it won’t slow her down, too much,” Sean said.
Zoe and Maya had their running shoes on recently, when the Dornan family flew to Walt Disney World in Florida in honour of World Wish Day, celebrated annually on April 29.
The day marks the first wish ever granted by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Kelly applied to Make-A-Wish, and she and Sean were over the moon when contacted by the organization.
“Because of everything, we hadn’t taken a real vacation since before [Zoe] was born,” Sean said. “We had taken a couple of day trips to Seattle and things like that. We needed it, too, to get away from everything.”
“It was nice to get, I guess, some good out of a bad situation,” Kelly added.
Zoe’s wish was among hundreds granted on World Wish Day in 48 countries served by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“I wanted to go to Disney World because I liked it when I went there in my imagination,” Zoe remarked during her wish interview.
A big fan of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse TV show, Zoe met Mickey where he lives, but an even bigger thrill was getting some face time with another favourite, Curious George, at Universal Studios Florida.
Sean said the trip was “really incredible.”
Westjet airlines knew Zoe was a Make-A-Wish recipient, so pilots let her and Maya into the cockpit after their plane touched down in Toronto, before the family continued on their way to Florida.
“Maya was included in everything,” Kelly said.
It was an emotional experience for the girls’ parents, who saw other children from around the world who had their wishes granted through Make-A-Wish.
“You could see there were kids in different stages of their illness,” Sean related.
“I remember there was this one girl, she had a feeding tube up her nose, her hair was gone, so you could tell she was in chemo, right now. She was at the pool with a towel draped over her with cotton candy in one hand and ice cream in the other, and she had a huge smile on her face.”
Seeing the girl was “really emotional in a good way,” Sean said.
“You could see all the kids having such a great time,” he said.
Zoe was one of those kids who had an unforgettable experience.
Asked who her favourite Mickey Mouse Clubhouse character is, she answered, with a shy shrug, “Ummm… ummm… P-ooo-dow!”
“Pluto,” her mom offered, in translation.
“World Wish Day allows people from all over the world to come together to help make more wishes come true,” said Ross Hetherington, executive director with Make-A-Wish BC. “This year, we ask individuals in our community to ‘Join the World’ by celebrating Zoe’s wish and by taking part in World Wish Day celebrations in their communities.”
Since 1983, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of BC & Yukon has made more than 1,400 wishes come true for children battling a life-threatening medical condition.
The organization’s goal is to refocus attention on the positive by providing a unique, once-in-a-lifetime wish experience that a family might not otherwise have.
For more information about the Make-A-Wish Foundation of BC & Yukon, including how you can help refer a child for a wish or make a donation, visit http://makeawishbc.ca/giving/donation, or call 604-688-7944.