With Mother’s Day fast approaching, Langley mom Lisa Bickell reflected on the lazy, hazy days of February, when her little girl had an adventure she won’t soon forget.
The Hawaiian sun shone on Anna Bickell while she floated along the “lazy river” at Disney’s Aulani Resort in Oahu.
Anna said she liked the lazy river “’cause I get bounced around by the current.”
The week-long tropical trip was made possible for Anna, her 10-year-old brother Matthew, and their parents Mark and Lisa by the BC & Yukon Chapter of The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada, which grants the favourite wish of children diagnosed with a life-threatening illnesses.
Six-year-old Anna and her family needed a getaway after all they’ve been through over the past year.
Anna required surgery after she was diagnosed with posterior fossa ependymoma (a malignant brain tumour), one day after her fifth birthday.
For roughly six weeks leading up to the diagnosis, Anna had been vomiting in the mornings.
“That was the only symptom that we could see, although the doctors could see others,” her mom said.
The day after Anna turned five, a CAT scan revealed the tumour.
“It was horrendous,” Lisa said, reflecting on that August 2014 day. “It completely rips the rug out from underneath you. She was a normal, happy, little girl. She was throwing up every once in a while in the morning but it was a half hour thing and then she was good and getting on with her day. There wasn’t anything to indicate to us that she was seriously ill.”
The family’s physician ruled out any other factors that would have led to Anna getting sick, and referred her to a pediatrician.
The pediatrician promptly sent Anna to BC Children’s Hospital for a CAT scan.
“We went for the CAT scan that Monday and they found the tumour,” Lisa recalled.
The same day, an MRI was done followed by a visit with the neurosurgeon.
Surgery was performed at BC Children’s Hospital to remove the tumour on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, two days after the diagnosis.
This was followed by an eight day stay in the hospital and then seven weeks (33 sessions) of radiation.
While residue remained after surgery, the hope is that the radiation therapy eliminated any leftover cells, Lisa explained.
“If her tumour returns at this point it would be considered a recurrence,” she added. “She will be monitored for recurrence of the rest of her life.”
The ordeal was hard on Anna and her family.
“It’s a blessing because she’s young enough that, I don’t know if she knows that her life was in danger,” Lisa said. “She definitely knows that it was a big deal because a lot of people fussed over her, and she didn’t start school.”
Lisa is forever thankful to the doctors and staff, from the family’s physician to the team at BC Children’s Hospital, for all they did.
“I can’t say enough good things about [BC] Children’s,” she said. “Every person that we dealt with there was fantastic. The person I really credit is the pediatrician we saw, Dr. [Stephen] Noseworthy.”
Mark said “words can’t even possibly begin to say how grateful we are.”
Moving forward, the family will do all it can to support Children’s Hospital.
“Our idea is we’ll just to try to pay it forward by raising money for Children’s Hospital and Children’s Wish,” Mark said.
With the surgery in the rear view, the Bickells received some much deserved ‘r & r’ thanks to the Children’s Wish Foundation.
“I think there’s a bit of a misconception that Children’s Wish is only for children who are terminal, which we’re not, we hope,” Lisa said. “Her illness still is, and will always be, a part of our lives. There’s a long list of possible side effects from radiation and of course we have to live with the risk of it [the cancer] coming back.”
Anna knew she had the opportunity to go on the trip because she got sick, mom said.
And the therapeutic benefits of the trip was “immeasurable,” Lisa said: “I don’t think she understood [the severity of the cancer] but my son did, and that was something that we had to navigate with him.”
That’s why, when Mark and Lisa applied for the wish, they did so for the entire family with the idea that Matthew had been through so much, as well.
From Matthew’s perspective, his parents and kid sister simply disappeared for a time.
“We took Anna to a doctor’s appointment and we didn’t come home for eight days,” Lisa said. “I phoned my family from the radiology office, and my parents live in Campbell River and they were here that night. They just moved in. All of our relatives swooped in to help.”
In Hawaii, Anna spent her days wearing a life-jacket, floating along the lazy river.
“She would just drift around in circles laughing and carrying on,” Lisa said.
As a family, the Bickells visited the Honolulu Zoo, Sea Life Park (“Anna has a thing for dolphins, so that was part of our motivation to go to Hawaii so she could see dolphins,” Lisa said), and toured the island. At the resort, there were movie nights, breakfast with the Disney characters, and a luau.
Mark said the entire experience was memorable, including fundraising with Children’s Wish prior to the trip.
“It wasn’t just the trip, it was everything,” Mark said. “It was really good for all of us. In particular, our son Matthew had a hard time through the whole process.”
Lisa said if she takes anything away from this experience, it’s how wonderful people can be, from friends and family to the entire community.
“It was an amazing source of support and I feel that Children’s Wish is the epitome of that; that’s their whole idea,” Lisa said.
She urges people to donate to what she calls “a wonderful organization.”
“The other part that people don’t realize is, it goes beyond the wish,” Lisa said. “They do events throughout the year, like we went for a [three-hour] flight in search of Santa in December.”
The next local event for Children’s Wish is a Princess Tea Party July 10, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Langley Coast Hotel and Convention Centre. Cost is $25 per person (free for children under the age of three).
All proceeds from the day of enchantment for princesses and pirates in the lower mainland with all proceeds to benefit Children’s Wish.
As well, by texting BLUEWISH to 80100, $5 will be donated to help grant a dream wish to a child with a serious illness, and appear on the next month’s phone bill from wireless service providers.