Call it a mother’s intuition. As Nicole explains, “Starting when Layla was three months old, I knew my daughter had a brain tumour. No one could understand why. There were no signs, no symptoms.”
By the time Layla was 18 months old, she was holding her head frequently indicating she felt pain and began throwing up. “The doctors thought, as a first time mother, I was being overprotective. They said she was fine because otherwise she appeared perfectly normal.”
Nicole’s concerns finally raised alarm bells when Layla started dragging her leg and her arm became immobile. A CT scan uncovered a very large mass in her brain. Fortunately, surgery was able to remove the growth. Layla underwent months of chemotherapy. MRI scans followed every few months to check for any reoccurrence of cancer.
“Layla was a trooper. It never ran her down,” says Nicole. Fortunately, she had minimal side effects from the chemotherapy. “Through the whole thing, she remained the active little girl she has always been. It was a blessing that she was able to handle it all so well.”
Four years later, in 2020, a light spot showed up on one of Layla’s scans, indicating the possible growth of a new tumour. “I was absolutely devastated that the cancer might have come back,” recalls Nicole. Her worst fears were confirmed a few months later. The procedure to remove the growth, this time much smaller but growing quickly, took place five years to the day after the first surgery.
This time, radiation was used to target malignant cells that may have been left behind. “Layla came through yet again with flying colours. She bounces back so fast. It is amazing,” exclaims Nicole.
Despite her resilience, the MRI scans, which continue periodically, can be hard on Layla. The procedure involves the insertion of an IV in her arm. “She hates that,” explains Nicole, “and she says, ‘Why do I always have to do this?’ If there's something like that she doesn't deal with well, I try to figure out a way to make it better.” When she was younger, Layla was terrified of the mask used to put her to sleep during MRI scans. Nicole asked the hospital for one she could take home. Layla played with her dolls donning the mask and she realized she had nothing to fear.
As Layla grew older, she began to understand more about her condition. At first, all she knew was that she was given lots of opportunities to have fun. “Anytime there was a fundraiser for kids with cancer, Layla and I would attend to help out, supporting other families and sharing stories of support. There’d be balloons, face painting — she would have a blast,” as Nicole describes it. She adds, “However, this past year, after hearing about other people living with cancer, Layla asked me, ‘Mom, is cancer bad?’ I told her it is a sickness, just like many others. She understands that and is not afraid.”