Oct. 16 will mark the one year anniversary since 9-year-old Allie Hansen was diagnosed with leukemia. For Allie, her parents, C.J. and Brittany, and her brothers, Mason and Hunter, it has been an exhausting and overwhelming year, filled with sleepless nights and long distance travel for chemotherapy appointments until they, too, were exhausted to the marrow. Sisyphus would rather spend another year pushing his boulder up the hill than have the year the Hansens have just endured.
“It’s been a crappy 11 months,” said Allie’s mother, Brittany. “Every day for the whole year we ate, breathed and slept cancer. Not that we wanted to, but it just takes over everything. Every decision we’ve made has been made around it. And it never stops. It never takes a vacation. It doesn’t stop for Christmas, for birthdays, for Mother’s Day. We’ve spent all of those days in the hospital with Allie while she was having chemo.”
C. J. works at Canyonlands Medical Center in their business office. Brittany works as a nurse at Page Hospital. They have insurance, so things could have been much worse, and for the most part the Hansens are counting their blessings. Instead of one step forward, two steps back, it’s been four, five, six steps forward, one step back.
During their year in and out of hospitals, they’ve met with people for whom things were worse. Despite their own trials, setbacks and hefty hospital bills, they still recognized that they had it better than most, and they started Allie’s Angels, a nonprofit organization that raises money to help with hospital bills for those who need financial assistance while someone in their family battles cancer.
“We’ve been blessed through this, so we want to help others,” said Brittany.
For the last year that help has come through friends, family and ward members and last Friday night their efforts got an additional boost from several local businesses, who partnered with the Page football team. For every touchdown the Sand Devils scored against their opponents, Page Lumber and the Page Dental Center gave $200 to Allie’s Angels. And the Sand Devils scored 11 touchdowns, the most they’ve scored in decades.
Antelope Canyon Slot Tours and the Page Eye Center have also contributed money to the foundation. And at points during last Friday’s game, the Sand Devils cheerleaders made their way through the fans in the stands and collected more money. So far Annie’s Angels has raised just under $5,000. It’s just the latest facet cut into an otherwise rough diamond.
About a year ago, Allie began having acute pains and lingering aches in her left leg and foot. It was easily attributable to the exertions of an active child. But a week later, Allie’s parent noticed that she looked pale, and then one morning while Brittany was doing Allie’s hair before school, she got dizzy and nearly fainted.
As much as Brittany hated to admit it, the signs pointed to something worse than over-exerted muscles. That day at work she told her coworkers about her daughter’s recent condition, and they told her it warranted some blood labs. An hour later, C.J. transported Allie to the hospital where they took some blood and x-rays. They did Allie’s bloodwork right there at Page Hospital, which made for some anxious hours for Brittany while she made her rounds and waited for the results.
When the results came back, Brittany saw that Allie’s white blood count was far above normal and her hemoglobin and hermetic platelets were very low. Brittany, from her long experience as a nurse, knew it meant some type of leukemia.
“That split second, when I realized Allie had cancer, my life, our lives, did a complete 180,” said Brittany.
Later that same day, Allie was flown from Page to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City, via Classic Air Medical. Because Brittany was a nurse, she got to ride with her daughter. At Primary Children’s, Allie’s condition was pinpointed down to a specific type of cancer: high-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Ninety percent of her blood was lymphoblastic cells, which spilled out into her blood stream.
Allie spent the next 10 days in the hospital being treated, then the next six weeks in out-patient treatment. Primary Children’s Hospital wasn’t in the Hansen’s insurance network and they racked up a pretty hefty bill during their stay.
“We just got their last bill last week,” said Brittany.
Allie is now being treated at Cardon Children’s Hospital in Mesa, and her parents have traveled with her on every occasion.
“We want to be with her for every treatment,” said Brittany. “Some of the treatments are Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We usually go down Sunday night and come back after Wednesday’s treatment, if Allie’s feeling OK. We need to return home so our two sons don’t feel abandoned through all this.
“Then we turn around the next day to go back for Friday’s treatment.”
While C.J. and Brittany are with Allie in Mesa, Brittany’s parents watch their sons.
Allie missed most of third grade, but was able to keep up with her school work at home and is now in the fourth grade.
Brittany and C.J. have witnessed some amazing moments of strength and resolve during the last year, and they’re continuously amazed at their daughter’s spirit and determination.
One of Allie’s first loves is dancing, and through her year of cancer treatments she has continued dancing and choreographing dances.
“I remember it was one of our Thursday appointments,” said Brittany, “and Allie had a dance competition in St. George that same night. We did the chemo in Mesa that morning, then drove to St. George so she could perform the dance she’d been practicing for so long.
“We barely made it. They called her name while she was changing in the dressing room.”
Allie’s first number was to the song “Skin” by Rascal Flatts, which is a song about a girl with leukemia who is undergoing chemotherapy.
She followed that with “Fight Song” to which she performed a jazz hip-hop solo.
“There wasn’t a dry eye in the whole auditorium,” said Brittany. “After the show, a little girl gave her her own huge trophy she’d won earlier.”
If all goes well Allie will finish her chemo treatments in February 2019.
“We’ve had incredible support from our family and friends,” said Brittany. “We have an amazing support team, from emotional to monetary.”
Allie’s Angels started from a group of friends and family who were concerned with Allie’s treatment progress and wanted to be kept apprised of her and her family’s well-being. That became a Facebook page and that evolved into a 501c non-profit group that supports other families battling cancer.
“This last year has really changed my perspective,” said C.J. “Even though we’re busier than we’ve ever been, we no longer put anything off, we no longer say, `Oh, we can do it later.’ We do the fun things, the family things now.”