AMHERST, N.S. – Hazel Rhindress is your typical toddler.
She has a smile that lights up a room, is naturally curious – albeit a little shy.
She is also on the other side of a cancer battle that not only threatened to steal her eyesight, but also threated to take her life.
“She’s doing great, you’d never know she had this disease, but she also knows very much what hospitals are,” father Chris Rhindress said. “She’s been tumour free since December. Hopefully we’ve seen the last of it.”
It wasn’t long after she was born that Hazel was diagnosed with bi-lateral retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer of the eye. Her mother, Holly Timmons, had it as a child and lost an eye to the disease.
When Hazel was born she asked doctors to check her eyes and sure enough at age four months the tumour was found.
“She she was born I wanted to make sure she was checked and at age four months we got her into the IWK in Halifax,” Timmons said. “That’s when they found it.”
From laser treatment to eight rounds of chemo, Hazel fought the disease. The chemo didn’t make her too sick, but it did cause her to break out in blisters as part of an allergic reaction. Doctors couldn’t stop the chemo, so they added medication to fight the symptoms of the reaction.
Eventually she got to ring the bell at the IWK that signifies someone being cancer-free. However, last summer during a follow-up doctors found the cancer had returned and the family had to go to Toronto Sick Kids Hospital for the next round of her fight – a battle that lasted more than four months.
Hazel’s father said it was tough adjusting to new surroundings, but praised Ronald McDonald House for helping them get through it all – even supplying some Toronto Blue Jays tickets to give the family a bit of a mini-vacation during her treatment.
While it would’ve been nice to explore the city, Hazel’s immune system was so low that any trip outside risked exposure to illness so they spent more of their time either at the hospital or Ronald McDonald House.
It was in December, just when the family was thinking they were going to have to spend Christmas in Toronto, they got the good news that Hazel’s tumour had disappeared. As celebratory as that was, neither Chris nor Holly will use the term cancer-free.
“We’ve been there, so were not going to say cancer-free because in the back of our minds we know it could come back again,” Timmons said.
Despite all the chemotheraphy and treatments, Hazel’s vision has not been impacted.
“She has 20-20 vision as of right now and they don’t know how she’s doing it,” Timmons said.
Hazel, who turned two in June, also has to return to the IWK every two to three weeks to be rechecked by doctors. This will continue until she’s at least age 16.
So far, she remains tumour-free.
It’s also their first summer they’ve been able to enjoy as a family since at this time last year she was headed to Toronto for treatment.
“She’s able to do things two-year-olds do, like go outside, go to the beach and be with friends,” Timmons said.
Both Rhindress and Timmons said they never could have made it without the support they received from the community through a GoFundMe page, Baby Hazel’s Battle with Cancer. They also had tremendous support from the Moncton Lions Sick Children’s Fund as well as employees at Chris’ job, Advantage Communications.
“We can’t say enough how thankful we are of the support we received from the community,” Chris said.