When Carli Puskas started grade five with only a pixie cut to indicate what she’d gone through, it was nothing short of remarkable, says her mother, Erica.
When the then 10-year-old’s complaints of stomach pains grew more urgent, and were accompanied by fever and vomiting, Erica dismissed a diagnosis that her daughter had a common intestinal virus and went directly to BC Children’s Hospital.
“Within two hours they were pulling us aside and saying she had a mass in her abdomen the size of a green pepper,” Erica recalls. “She was probably 60 pounds when she went in and to have something of that size inside her was pretty crazy.”
Admitted to the Oncology Unit at BC Children’s that day, Carli had surgery to remove the tumour two days later. The operation was a success, though she lost one side of her ovary and a fallopian tube. After four rounds of chemotherapy in as many months, Carli was given the all-clear in August 2013.
“It was very fast and furious but the results were amazing,” says Erica. “And who knows – if we hadn’t gone there, or without their quick diagnosis – what could have happened?”
Erica has the highest praise for the cancer doctors and nurses at Children’s. “They have a knack for being honest but very soft at the same time,” she says. “Carli had very direct questions for her doctor and Dr. Caron Strahlendorf would answer very directly, very honestly, but in a way that Carli could relate to – without going over her head.”
Carli is now back riding horses and playing soccer and, though she will require follow-up blood tests and uterus scans, her appointments are becoming less frequent.
“I know that Carli’s going to take this [experience] one day and it’s going to shape her and make her into somebody who’s going to make a difference,” says Erica.
Carli now has something else to show for her months of cancer treatment: a head of blonde curls that never before existed.