Childhood Cancer Stories: Valentina MacDonald

Meet Valentina MacDonald. Her daughter Brenda was 9 months old when she was diagnosed with NF1/optic glioma, a brain tumour that affects the optic nerve. Valentina and her husband were determined to find treatment to heal their young daughter, travelling from Mexico to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. The MacDonald’s currently reside in Nova Scotia where Brenda, now 19, still receives medical treatment at the IWK Hospital.

Read more about their cancer story and discover how years of treatment did not stop Brenda’s from reaching her goals.

Valentina: Brenda is resilient. She was diagnosed at 9 months and had MRI’s every 6 months. At age 2 ½ doctors recommended chemotherapy, she did 52 weeks of it. She never complained. We started in Houston at the MD Anderson Cancer Center and after the initial 10 weeks of induction, we went back home to Mexico where we lived at the time. The trip to the hospital was kind of a party because my sisters and her cousins will come to visit, bring little trinkets and games. She actually looked forward to those days. She had such a sunny disposition that even other people in treatment wanted to come to the hospital when Brenda was there. Then it was in and out of doctors’ offices because of other surgeries, de-bulking tumours or getting rid of them. In all, she had 5 surgeries and then at age 10 there was a regrowth on that brain tumour and she needed radiation therapy which they did at the IWK in Halifax, NS

Childhood Cancer Canada: What were the first clues that your family noticed something was wrong?

Valentina: Brenda was born with numerous Café au lait spots and had a bit of a droopy eye, we were not sure what the deal was.

Childhood Cancer Canada: How did your family react when Brenda was diagnosed?

Valentina: She was diagnosed with NF1 but we were not aware of all the implications, we started seeing a specialist in Houston, TX. We were living in Mexico at the time and had the means to see a specialist there.

Childhood Cancer Canada: What were your family’s initial plans after diagnosis?

Valentina: We were in complete disbelief, we didn’t understand what it all meant, we tried to figure out what went wrong.

Childhood Cancer Canada: What are some things your family did to cope during this challenging time?

Valentina: I think that my husband and I made a really good team. I managed all the research and schedules and appointments. He was always there as a sounding board and there for Brenda when I needed to recoup. Of course, it meant a lot having my mother and my siblings rallying around her.
Brenda is Valentina and her husbands’ only child. “We decided we couldn’t have another kid not knowing what the future brought for Brenda, it wouldn’t be fair to the other kid, not being able to do something or go somewhere because Brenda needed treatment,” said Valentina. Brenda’s tumour has not dissolved and she is still in treatment going to MRI and ophthalmology appointments.

Childhood Cancer Canada: If you could describe Brenda and your family in one word, what would it be and why?

Valentina: Adaptable, we have adapted to every circumstance, every change.

Childhood Cancer Canada: How has Childhood Cancer Canada helped through your family cancer journey?

Valentina: Once we moved to Nova Scotia the IWK has been there all the time, even now when they have graduated Brenda to adult care. She received a Survivor Scholarship last year and when she first started at the IWK she fundraised for Childhood Cancer Canada.

Childhood Cancer Canada: How has Brenda’s cancer journey inspired you?

Valentina: I now know what really matters.

Childhood Cancer Canada: What advise do you have for families affected by childhood cancer?

Valentina: Be there for each other, recognize the strengths of each individual and take advantage of them.

Childhood Cancer Canada: How can more people get educated and help those affected by childhood cancer?

Valentina: It is important to let other people know that cancer happens and to support the child from school, the community, etc.

Childhood Cancer Canada: Currently, how is Brenda?

Valentina: Brenda has gradually lost her vision, she is 19 now and legally blind, she is taking full-time Hotel and Resort Management in Nelson, B.C. She found her passion ski racing and is looking to be part of the Para-Alpine Canada Team.