SALT LAKE CITY — Hunter Hansen is only 11-years-old, but it's safe to say that she knows more about life than most kids — and adults. For nearly a year, she has bravely fought ovarian cancer, and is now working on a fundraiser for other patients at Primary Children's Hospital.
It has been 23 years since the hospital has treated a girl with ovarian cancer, and the type Hunter Hansen — small cell ovarian cancer — is extremely rare.
In February, Hunter complained of pain in her right side. It became so intense her parents rushed her to an emergency room.
"We went in and thought it was appendicitis and it wasn't," Hunter said. "It was a 5 pound tumor on my ovaries."
Tests for appendicitis turned out negative, but the amount of pain Hunter was in convinced doctors to perform surgery. 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.
"He had one of the little petri dishes with the tumor in it, and it was literally the size of my fist," said August Salvadori, Hunter's father.
Following surgery, Hunter cut her hair, knowing she would lose it with chemo. Two teachers and some fellow students at Silver Mesa Elementary in Sandy did the same.
What is small cell ovarian cancer?
Small Cell Carcinoma of the Ovary (SCCO) is a rare, highly malignant tumor that affects mainly young women. The median age is 24 years old. ... many doctors have never seen a patient with small cell ovarian cancer.
Symptoms are often subtle and include:
- Persistent bloating/Increased abdominal size
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
- Back pain
- Constiptation & menstrual irregularities
"My hair is growing back in, so that's why my head hurts," Hunter said Thursday, while rubbing a cold wash cloth over her head. It's something her nurses gave her because she's not allowed to scratch her head.
"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.
He and his colleagues are fighting Hunter's cancer aggressively. They removed her female organs and are giving her a bone marrow transplant after chemo.
"Our ability to give really intense doses of chemotherapy with stem cell transplant has improved the prognosis quite a bit," Fluchel said.
Hunter now comes to the hospital five days a week for radiation. Soon, she will go back to chemotherapy for quite some time, possibly for three more years at longer intervals.
Though her treatments exhausted her, she is often thinking about how she can make life better for other children. Hunter and her family have joined a national group called "Extra Life" to raise money for other kids at Primary Children's. Her team is called Hunter's Gamers.
"You pledge that you will play games for 25 hours" on the weekend that marks the end of Daylight Saving time, Salvadori explained.
"People should help so kids can get well faster," Hunter said.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-duc