FAIRMONT - Still sleepy after waking up from her nap, 3-year-old Mya Busse snuggled on her mom's lap as the young woman described how their lives have changed the past few months.
On May 14, Mya was diagnosed with ALL - acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Since then, the family's schedule has revolved around doctors' visits and blood counts, which impact how social they can be if Mya is more susceptible to infection.
According to the National Cancer Institute, ALL is the most common cancer diagnosed in children, representing 23 percent of cancer diagnoses among kids younger than 15 years. ALL starts in the bone marrow, with the white blood cells needed to fight infection. The cancer spreads quickly, with the leukemia invading the blood and potentially spreading to other parts of the body. With treatment, more than 95 percent of children attain remission, and the five-year survival rate is 89 percent for children younger than 15.
SAY ‘AHHH’ — Mya Busse plays doctor with her mom, Danielle Schultz, at their home in Fairmont. Mya was diagnosed in May with leukemia. A benefit is planned for the family on Sunday.
"She just wasn't herself," said Danielle Schultz, recalling the symptoms that led to Mya's diagnosis.
The little girl was fatigued, bruised easily and felt feverish. When the glands in Mya's neck, armpits and groin area swelled, Schultz took her to the doctor but was sent home without any answers. She decided to get a second opinion, and a blood test at Dulcimer Medical Center revealed just how sick Mya was. In Rochester that same day, physicians confirmed that she had leukemia.
"It was the scariest thing of my life," Schultz said. "I broke out in hives all over. ... It's the worst nightmare a parent can have - knowing your child is sick, especially with cancer."
Hiding her fears from her daughter was difficult but necessary, the 24-year-old realized. Support from family, friends and the community have helped her stay strong throughout the ups and downs.
"I would always tell my mom, I'm only 24. I'm still a kid. I still need my mom. But this has made me grow up," Schultz said.
But as a single mom unable to work, money is tight, she acknowledged. That's why an auction and benefit dinner for the family have been scheduled for 4-8 p.m. Sunday at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Fairmont. Proceeds will help with weekly travel expenses and everyday living expenses.
When Mya was first diagnosed, Schultz needed to drive to Rochester often, at least once a week for various chemotherapy treatments. In addition to intravenous treatment, when medications are inserted via a port located by Mya's heart, the little girl has also has to undergo intrathecal treatment. The chemotherapy is injected into the spinal fluid in order to travel through the spinal system into the brain, destroying any cancer cells that may have spread to the central nervous system.
Treatment for childhood ALL typically continues for three years. Last month Schultz was taught how to administer intravenous chemotherapy at home, so she does not have to drive back and forth as often to Rochester.
"Mya thinks it's fun," Schultz said, laughing. "She says 'Mommy's playing doctor.'"
That childish sense of wonder has carried through in other aspects her new life with cancer.
"She's excited about losing her hair," Schultz said. "She wants hair like her dad's."
Aside from fatigue after her treatments, Mya has not experienced many of negative side effects associated with chemotherapy. Her appetite and weight are down - she's lost 10 pounds since May - but otherwise she's feeling better than before her treatments began.
"She just wants to play. She's a regular 3 year old," her mom said.
The benefit on Sunday has activities planned for Mya and other children, including live music and a bouncy house. For the adults, a silent auction begins at 4 p.m. Sunday, with the live auction at 7:14 p.m. Minnesota Wild tickets will be raffled off.
Sponsors for the benefit include Alliance Pork, Fairmont Hy-Vee, Gerhardts Catering and Tami's on the Ave, where Schultz worked before Mya became ill.
Anyone who cannot attend the event and wishes to give a donation can send money to:
US Bank, in care of Mya Busse/Danielle Schultz.
103 N. Park St.
Fairmont, MN 56031