SALT LAKE CITY — Hunter Hansen is only 11 years old, but she knows a lot about life's challenges.
For nearly a year, the girl from Sandy has bravely fought small cell ovarian cancer, a disease Primary Children’s Hospital hasn’t seen in a child in more than 20 years.
While she is still going through treatments, Hunter wants to help other children dealing with illness at the hospital with a special fundraiser.
She puts on a brave face and smiles a lot, but she’s exhausted.
“I’m tired. My hair is growing back in, so that’s why my head hurts,” Hunter said with a laugh.
She can’t scratch her head, so she is using a washcloth to calm the itch.
In February, Hunter complained of pain in her right side. It was there off and on for about three or four weeks. Then one night it got so bad that her parents rushed her to the hospital.
“(I) pushed on it a little bit, and she jumped off the couch almost," said her father, August Salvadori, "so I was like, that is definitely a sign of appendicitis.”
At the emergency room, doctors told Salvadori that tests didn’t show that Hunter had appendicitis, but her reactions to pain and location of the pain indicated she did.
She had surgery at 5 a.m. The surgeon told her parents the procedure would last 30 to 45 minutes, but he didn’t come out of the operating room for two hours. When he came out, he showed them what he found.
“It wasn’t (appendicitis),” Hunter said with a chuckle. “It was a 5-pound tumor on my ovaries.”
“He had one of the little petri dishes with the tumor in it, and it was literally as big as my fist," Salvadori said.
Hunter was diagnosed with small cell ovarian cancer.
“This particular type of tumor is a carcinoma, and carcinomas are exceedingly rare in children,” said Dr. Mark Fluchel, a pediatric oncologist at Primary Children’s Hospital. “This is a very aggressive tumor, and it requires quite a bit of chemotherapy.”
Doctors are fighting her cancer aggressively. Hunter had chemotherapy up until June. They took time to recover in July, and then she was in the hospital in August for a bone marrow transplant.
On Thursday, Hunter finished her 14th round of radiation. She has 13 treatments left and will then have low-dose chemotherapy every three weeks for three years, her father said.
“Our ability to give really intense doses of chemotherapy with stem cell transplant has improved the prognosis quite a bit,” Fluchel said.
Doctors also had to remove her female organs.
Hunter still has treatments ahead of her, but that isn’t stopping her from helping others.
Her family has started "Hunter’s Gamers" on the website Extra Life. People sign up to play games for 25 hours and people sponsor them. All proceeds will go to Primary Children’s Hospital. The fun begins at 8 a.m. Nov. 2 and runs through 8 a.m. Nov. 3. The family’s goal is to raise at least $300.
“People should help so kids can get well faster,” Hunter said.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company