Garland Girl Perseveres Through Two Years of Treatment for Brain Cancer

By Patrick McGee

When doctors told 12-year-old Hailey Ganster her headaches were being caused by a brain tumor, the news came as such a shock it was difficult to process.

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Visit any one of the four locations in the Dallas area all day Saturday, June 16, to help make life better for children like Hailey.

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Meet Hailey at the Kendra Scott Sweet 16 Birthday Bash June 16 in Allen, Texas.

Kendra Scott, in partnership with Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, whose mission is to raise funds and awareness for local children's hospitals, is offering a private sale with exclusive pricing on select fine jewelry. Twenty percent of the proceeds from the event will directly support Children’s Health.

“I wasn’t really sure about what was happening,” she said. “I didn’t realize that it would be something as big as cancer or that something this big could happen to me.”

Surgery was necessary to biopsy the tumor, followed by difficult rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. She said the hardest part came six months later when a follow up MRI scan showed the tumor had returned.

“It was not what I expected at all because we only had good news before with my scans,” she said. “We basically went through everything for nothing. I was in shock.”

Her mother, Shannon Ganster, said the news was the hardest blow she had ever received.

“She just started high school; she was looking forward to her life, her new life, moving forward cancer-free, so then just to be told you have it again and you have to go through it all again was just devastating,” Mrs. Ganster said.

The news got even worse; doctors at Children’s Health found that the cancer cells from the tumor had traveled down her spinal fluid and created a new tumor on her spine. Chemotherapy and radiation would not just have to be repeated but would have to be much more intense.

The treatments caused her such pain her mother remembers Hailey makings fists and pressing the bottom of her palms into her eye sockets.

“She would just cry out, ‘God, please help me, help me feel better,’” Mrs. Ganster recalled.

Hailey said the chemotherapy caused all kinds of pain: dull pain, sharp pain, burning pain. The chemotherapy was coming out her skin, and nurses had to wipe her down in the shower every six hours to keep her skin from being damaged. Hailey got through it by “praying and balling my eyes out.”

The chemotherapy was so intense doctors knew it would kill a dangerously high number of stem cells in her bone marrow, so they harvested millions of these cells from Hailey’s blood and transplanted them back in her when chemotherapy was complete.

Finally released from isolation, she felt a new appreciation for simple things, like being able to step outside and feel the sunshine. But still, she could not rush back to her normal life. She had to spend 30 additional days of isolation in her home, and for an entire school year she attended classes via a robot with a video camera that the school provided and that her friends brought from class to class.

And treatments were not done. Hailey required 25 days of radiation treatment. This meant returning to the dreaded mask that held her in place while everyone else left the room to stand clear of the radiation. The mask made her feel nervous and claustrophobic, but she told herself she had to endure it.

“It hurt as a parent because you have to leave the room,” Mrs. Ganster said. She said she prayed over Hailey before stepping out, and played a CD of praise and worship songs to help calm her.

This round of radiation included her spine, too. When done, it looked like she had a severe sunburn running down her back.

The chemotherapy, isolation and radiation were tough on Hailey, but even tougher on her cancer – they appear to have beaten it.

“After I started feeling better, it was like the light at the end of the tunnel,” Hailey said. “I thought, ‘OK, it’s not like I am going through all this hard, miserable stuff for nothing.’”

Hailey eventually returned to school with a baseball cap to cover her hair loss, and students rushed to ask her if she was OK and to welcome her warmly.

She embraced high school and new opportunities with passion. She became manager of the drill team and was commissioned to do art work for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She voluntarily enrolled in some of the most difficult classes her school could offer: college credit English, pre-calculus and advanced placement physics. She did three hours of homework a night and sometimes joked with her family that physics class might just be worse than having cancer.

Now a 16-year-old in the 11th grad at Garland High School, Hailey just hit the two-year mark for being cancer-free.


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