Aneesa Cedillo rolled through the cafeteria waving at friends as her first-grade teacher, Katy Lee, pushed her wheelchair. Once Ms. Lee parked her at the end of a cafeteria table at Caldwell Elementary School, the 7-year-old started to dig in to her meal.
For her classmates, Monday was likely just like any other day, but for Aneesa, it was a special day. She doesn’t get to go to school often because she is undergoing chemotherapy treatments at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.
Diagnosed in the fall with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer, Aneesa has been traveling to Dallas every other week for the past few months as she seeks to beat the cancer that started in her right leg.
The event, scheduled for today, will feature many Dallas area celebrities, dignitaries and media personalities.
Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks and former Dallas Cowboys Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach will be honorary co-chairmen.
Aneesa will model a dress and accessories during a special runway show, sponsored by Dillard’s, and a picture she drew will be featured in the 2012 Children’s Cancer Fund Reflection Book.
Aneesa said she is happy about getting to walk on the stage and that the event will raise money that could help other kids with cancer.
“That makes me feel nice,” she said.
The Sweetest Person
A turquoise-colored mask covered her nose and mouth, keeping out germs that could take advantage of her already compromised immune system.
A black crocheted hat her mother made covered her bald head, a telltale sign of the chemotherapy she is undergoing.
But the brightly colored hearts that filled her black shirt, the flowers that decorated her white flip flop sandals and her pink-painted toenails shed a bit of light onto the personality inside.
To strangers, Aneesa is quiet, using only a word or two to answer questions.
But to her mother and grandmother, she talks freely, asking questions, giving directions and occasionally raising a hand and finger to ask a question.
She loves school, her friends, drawing and her dog, Gigi, a Cocker Spaniel-Shih Tzu mix. And she’s incredibly friendly, a quality she demonstrated by greeting school employees and classmates as they passed.
“She’s like the sweetest person I know,” her mother Joanna Cedillo said. “She’s like wanting to be everybody’s friend.”
Battling the cancer
It began in September when she developed severe pain in her right femur.
“I was really scared,” Aneesa said describing the pain as a feeling akin to being punched in the leg repeatedly.
Her mother and grandparents thought she fell or bruised her leg somehow and sought to relieve the pain with massages.
But to no avail. By the weekend, Aneesa was limping. On that Sunday, Sept. 18, she hardly ate her lunch and crumpled to the floor when her mother tried to set her down to walk.
A visit to a Tyler emergency room changed the course of the family’s life when Ms. Cedillo learned that doctors thought her daughter had cancer.
“You’re wrong; it’s not that,” Ms. Cedillo said of her thoughts at the time. “It’s got to be something else. It can’t be that.”
That night, an ambulance transported Aneesa and her mother to Dallas with more family in tow. After a biopsy confirmed cancer, she soon started chemotherapy.
And for the past eight months, Aneesa’s life has been a mix of tests, treatments and recovery.
The chemotherapy reduced the tumor’s size by 90 percent, and in January, Aneesa underwent surgery.
Doctors removed about 75 percent of her right femur and replaced it with cadaver bone. A metal plate and screws hold the bone in place. Ms. Cedillo said the doctors called it a “textbook operation” and said it went perfectly. They were particularly pleased that they avoided affecting growth plates in Aneesa’s hip and knee.
Since that time Aneesa has continued chemotherapy treatment and is expected to do so until July.
Learning to cope
She tried to fight the doctors and nurses as they worked and wanted nothing to do with what was happening to her, Ms. Cedillo said.
Throughout time, though, fear has given way to curiosity. Instead of fighting, Aneesa asks a lot of questions, Ms. Cedillo said. She wants to know what is going on and what the doctors and nurses are doing.
“In a way, it seemed like she had to grow up pretty quickly,” Ms. Cedillo said.
Aneesa has embraced the fact that chemo is necessary to help her get better declaring during a recent visit, “Yay, I’m getting chemo,” after the doctor said her blood counts were good to go.
When her mother and the medical professionals in the room looked at her with surprise, she said, “if I’m getting chemo, it is working and I can get better faster,” her mother said.
Ms. Lee, Aneesa’s teacher, said students have really risen to the occasion to help Aneesa in any way they can.
Students push her wheelchair, throw away her trash after lunch and take her to the nurse when she needs to go.
Ms. Lee said that when Aneesa lost her hair, she was nervous about taking off her hat in class, but she told her, “This is your classroom. This is your family, and we’re not going to laugh.”
Ms. Lee said some of the students chimed in to offer their support and Aneesa eventually felt comfortable enough to take off her hat sometimes.
“She’s really a very happy child,” Ms. Lee said. “She’s very social. She loves to be at school and just with her friends. She likes to draw and look at books.”
Little by little, Aneesa has been able to put more and more weight on her right leg. Immediately after the surgery she couldn’t walk on it, but in March, the doctor said she could put up to 50 percent of her body weight on the leg.
She has a walker to use, but when she goes to school, she primarily uses the wheelchair. Ms. Cedillo said Aneesa is expected to make a full recovery, being able to walk without assistance.
Aneesa said her favorite thing to do is to jump and run.
“I just ask God to help me to walk soon and get better soon,” she said of her prayer.
Ms. Cedillo said it’s a joy to see how well her daughter is responding to the treatment compared to what she expected.
“It’s like, she’s going to do it,” Ms. Cedillo said. “She’s doing it. She’s getting there. She’s laughing. She’s giggling. She’s playing.”
“And she’s dancing,” added Aneesa’s grandmother Celia Cedillo.