‘My little girl has fought so hard for so long’
By Ignacio Lobos, Fred Hutch Editor of External Communications
Earlier this month, as her 3-year-old daughter lost her strength and stopped walking, Jai Anderson prepared for the worst.
Allistaire was barely 21 months when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that typically affects adults. For the past 100-plus days, she has been receiving care at Seattle Children’s, the kind of care that gave her daughter a fighting chance against cancer, Anderson said.
But on the first day of June, the cancer seemed to be winning, advancing so fast that Anderson feared it would spread into Allistaire’s internal organs. In her mind, she began preparations to pack up and take her daughter to hospice care in Montana and be among family and friends—especially her loving older sister, Solveig, a first grader.
Allistaire is a vivacious little girl who loves to skip rocks at Lake Washington in Seattle when she is not at Children’s receiving chemotherapy treatments. She loves to walk and visit with other children at the hospital. To see her languish in bed, with no strength for a smile even, was devastating.
“I was very afraid,” said Anderson, a Washington state native and University of Washington graduate. “My little girl has fought so hard for so long, I couldn’t even conceive the worst—and yet, I had to prepare for it.”
Hang on, Anderson thought. Hang on for a little longer. There’s still something else to try. That something else is a clinical trial being conducted by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. And if there’s one expert to trust on leukemia, it is Fred Hutch, the pioneer of bone marrow/stem cell transplantation to treat leukemia and other blood cancers, Anderson knew.
Allistaire did her part as Fred Hutch researchers and Children’s doctors and nurses prepared her for a stem cell transplant. She gained strength; she started smiling again. Anderson smiled back.
Someone else did her part as well, a 37-year-old woman somewhere in Europe, a woman who just happened to be the same age as Allistaire’s mom, a woman who had promised to donate her stem cells so someone else would have a chance to live.
On June 18, Allistaire received those cells. On a website journal, Anderson wrote about that day, when life arrived in a white cooler:
“We stood back and watched as she opened the cooler and the soft white and pale blue wrap. We watched as she laid the bag of cells on the counter—the shockingly small little bag—not quite the color of platelets, not quite the color of blood: rose. One hundred and thirty milliliters. That’s it? All that fuss for this?
“This wee bag with some thin liquid, so carefully tested and then gathered, then flown from around the world, the volume reduced to the allowable amount—a mere 10 million cells per kilogram, equating to about 150 million cells; 150 million stem cells so precisely matched to Allistaire Kieron Anderson. I did not know if I could believe it until they showed up. It all worked out? Every single step, orchestrated by a surprising number of people, and every single step occurred bringing us here to this day. She did it! That woman followed through with her promise!”
And now they wait. They wait for Allistaire’s new immune system to kill the cancer. And Anderson thinks it’s time for her to come through with her promise: ride in Fred Hutch’s Obliteride bike event to raise money for cancer research.
Obliteride. There’s something in the name that captured her attention. Anderson is a wordsmith; loves to write; confesses to being a very wordy person. Just read her online journal, and you’ll see, she said:
“Part of what drew me to it is the fantastic word, “Obliteride,” clearly meant to be akin to the word, “obliterate.” Anyone who knows me, knows I am prone to hyperbole—I love words and the bigger, fatter, more shiny or weighty—well—I need really big powerful words to convey how I feel and still they are usually insufficient.
“Obliterate—that is one hardcore word! And what is Obliteride? It is a fundraising event put on by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to raise funds, 100 percent of which goes to cancer research! It is a bike ride that gives participants—both riders and supporters—the chance to tangibly come together to further the amazing, wild research necessary to learn about the human body, learn about cancer and figure out how to stop the death and wreckage caused by cancer.”
It’s research that has kept Allistaire alive for more than a year now, and it’s a Fred Hutch clinical trial that’s giving her a second chance, she said.
“I don’t know what the future holds for my daughter,” Anderson said. “But so many people have cared about us. We want to give back to research, back to science. We want to give other children the same opportunities that were given to Allistaire.”
So far, Anderson has raised nearly $5,000—way more than her initial goal of $1,000. And a friend has joined her in the ride.
Her Obliteride vehicle is a 1995 bike her father bought for her when she was a student at UW. Training? There’s practically none of that going on. She is a busy mom these days, but she is certain she can ride 25 miles.
There are other tougher challenges in her life. And that’s true for her daughter as well, a 3-year-old girl who is fighting for her life as you read this story—a 3-year-old girl who just wants to be healthy enough to skip rocks in all of the world’s lakes.