Melanie Hackett, 5, looked over her outfit: laced-up high tops with glitter unicorn print; sparkly sequin, rainbow colored tutu; gold unicorn horn headband and rainbow sequined unicorn ears.
“What’s missing?” thought Melanie.
Melanie was getting ready for the Annual Champions Run for Life “Torch Run”, a fundraiser for the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. The Torch Run is an Olympic-style relay race filled with uplifting moments as patient “champions” carry a torch — a symbol of hope for a cure — through a one-eighth mile celebratory lap.
This was Melanie’s first big outing since… cancer. Melanie’s story with cancer began with a literal thud.
Melanie had fallen from the playground structure at preschool. Melanie’s mom, Sujey, happened to be with her and rushed her to a local South Bay emergency department. An ultrasound and X-ray showed that Melanie was fine. Sujey was told to expect bruising and to schedule a visit with Melanie’s pediatrician.
Days following the fall, Melanie contracted a stomach virus. Sujey was worried, but didn’t want to overreact.
At Melanie’s next follow-up appointment, her pediatrician noticed she looked pale and exhausted. The pediatrician told Sujey to continue monitoring her and to schedule another follow-up appointment.
Soon, Melanie didn’t want to go to preschool or tee-ball. She was too tired. Her parents’ worried — what was going on with their four-year-old?
Blood work was taken at Melanie’s next follow-up appointment. The next day, Melanie’s pediatrician called to confirm her condition was critical and that she needed to go to the emergency department.
Back at their local hospital, Melanie’s poor condition was tied to a low hemoglobin count. Melanie required specialty pediatric care and needed to be transported to a children’s hospital.
Considering peak traffic hours, distance and Melanie’s critical condition, her parents chose to transport her to Miller Children’s & Women’s.
The Transport Program at Miller Children’s & Women’s has a specialized care team to safely transport children who need life-saving specialty care. On the evening of Thursday, April 6, 2017, Melanie arrived by transport at Miller Children’s & Women’s. Melanie was admitted to the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute where she received a blood infusion and underwent more testing.
The next morning, Melanie, Sujey, dad Ryan, and grandpa John, met with Jacqueline Casillas, M.D., medical director, Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute, who revealed Melanie’s diagnosis — acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
A common childhood cancer, the Hackett family was familiar with ALL. Someone else in their family had been diagnosed with ALL as a child. Discussing the experience, they realized Dr. Casillas had been the treating physician on that family member’s case many years ago at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.
In recent years, Miller Children’s & Women’s and UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital has formed a strategic affiliation to bring together each hospitals academic, clinical and research expertise, and resources to enhance children’s health care services in Southern California.
They were relieved to have a familiar and trusted physician on Melanie’s care team during such a difficult time. Dr. Casillas explained that Melanie’s treatment would span two years and three months and that the care team at Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Institute would be by Melanie and her family’s side through it all.
Sujey and Ryan worked closely with the care team to learn about Melanie’s condition, treatment regimen which included steroids, chemotherapy and more. Melanie was hospitalized for 11 days and then discharged for at-home care.
Cancer interrupted Melanie’s life. She had to drop out of preschool and tee-ball. As a side effect of her chemotherapy, she lost her hair. But through it all, with her family and care team with her every step of the way, the one thing Melanie never lost was her sparkle.
Sparkle and Shine
More than a year into cancer treatment, Melanie whipped around and picked up the missing piece of her outfit.
She slid her gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses, with rainbow ombre tinted lenses onto the brim of her little nose.
She looked in the mirror, struck a pose and threw a peace sign and giggled. She was ready to shine her unicorn magic at Torch Run.