Alexandra Cryderman, known as Lexi to her family and friends at CHEO, is cuddling Ellie the Elephant. Ellie is a well-loved and worn stuffy that has helped Lexi brave the pokes from needles for blood work and intravenous chemotherapy through more than two years of treatments at CHEO. Ellie’s trunk is soft and fuzzy and Lexi caresses her cheek with it for extra comfort when the going gets tough.
But today, Ellie is hanging out with Lexi and her parents Elton and Natalie to talk about cancer, CHEO, her big sister Rachel and the power of staying positive! Her laughter is pure joy and delight and she shares it freely.
It wasn’t one big thing that brought Lexi to CHEO. It was a bunch of little things: low energy, a cold that hung on, aching legs. Asking the girls to hug for a photo, Elton became concerned. “Her colour was off. She looked less pinkish than her sister,” he recalls. A call to Telehealth suggested she see a doctor.
Elton opted for CHEO. Within a few hours, he called Natalie with devastating news: Lexi had leukemia. Further testing determined it as pre B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Lexi was admitted and her CHEO story began.
“It was very late when we got our room,” Elton recalls. “I was emotionally drained and when I tucked Lexi in, she said ‘Daddy today was a great day!’ It was anything but in my mind, but I asked her why and she said ‘Because I got to spend the whole day with you!’”
That was Lexi’s four-and-a-half year old optimism. But life as the family knew it had changed.
There was fear. Lexi’s seven year old sister Rachel was terrified of losing her. The CHEO team reassured them. Lexi’s cancer is very treatable. She spent the next 11 days at CHEO going through intensive chemotherapy treatments and a variety of tests.
While Lexi has responded well, she’s had numerous unplanned hospital stays for fevers, an eye infection, pneumonia and influenza. “At one point I stopped being as scared about the cancer because it was being treated,” Natalie says. “I was more concerned about everything that comes along with a compromised immune system.”
A cancer diagnosis affects the entire family – but Natalie says they’ve gone from reacting to acting. There is more family time, taking shape as Friday movie nights and special outings for the girls together and individually.
“It’s a weird place to be,” she says. “You’re going through this horrible thing compared to your friends with healthy kids, but we also see other CHEO families whose kids are having a tougher time than Lexi.”
“Yeah,” Elton admits. “You bounce between guilt that your kid is doing so well compared to some others, and PTSD. We’ve been really impressed with CHEO. They’ve made an awful situation as good as possible and have been supportive throughout.”
But for Lexi, it’s all smiles when she talks about CHEO: Molly Penny the clown who does magic tricks, Brenda the Child Life Specialist who would organize tea parties during her hospital stays and of course, the nurses who made everything a bit better. Lexi also has advice for other kids embarking on their own CHEO story. “They should try not to be scared and try to think on the positive side. The nurses and doctors are so nice. You don’t have to be nervous.”
Lexi has lofty plans including becoming a veterinarian, inspired by her black cat Millie who has green eyes and white on her paws and belly. “She looks like she’s wearing a tuxedo,” she squeaks before dissolving into giggles.
Lexi is thrilled to be a part of the McDonald’s Dream Team for CN Cycle for CHEO. “I’ve been practicing without my training wheels,” she says proudly. “I’ve gone about this far, maybe?” She marks off a length of about three feet. Everyone starts somewhere!
We’ll see you at the starting line Miss Lexi!