It took some doing for us to find Andrea and her mamma Elena’s place in Monterrey (our Uber driver had a lot of patience), but as we finally entered the door to their apartment, our hearts simultaneously opened to each other. This type of thing doesn’t happen every day, but then again, it’s not that often people allow you into the most intimate corners of their lives.
Anni’s from Italy and doesn’t speak or understand much English (or Spanish, for that matter!), so communication might have presented a challenge, but that wasn’t our experience. Without the words to use, we relied on the language of our hearts. My daughter Lily painted her fingernails, Robyn sang her a song in Italian that she used to sing to her boys, and I helped put away the grocery delivery and chatted with Elena. Immediately, we settled into a satisfying, comfortable groove.
With violet-tipped hair and purple-rimmed glasses, Anni epitomizes all things feminine. When presented with assorted cupcake-scented lipglosses, her entire being positively lit up. She adores her dog Simba, and she revels in a plate of meaty ribs. Anni dreams of owning a restaurant when she grows up, which she plans to call Un Pizzico d’Amore, A Pinch of Love. How fitting.
Staying in Mexico for treatment has taken its toll on Anni. Being away from her sister has carved a hole in Anni’s heart that she doesn’t pretend to hide; the mere mention of Clarissa’s name like a light switch sends Anni into sobs.
Elena explains that Anni always thinks of others before herself. She carries this with her even now, as she refuses to complain out of consideration of worrying her mother. How do you tell a child to disregard her own nature to want to shield you from her pain? How do you ask her to let you hold it, instead?
On November 14, 2015, Anni complained of a severe headache on the back of her head and her legs gave out during a karaoke evening with friends. For several days before, Elena described Anni’s eyes as looking grey and “off.” She also recalls Anni uncharacteristically crying, “Mamma! I miss you!!” when Elena started a new job. She was 7 years old at the time.
After her diagnosis, Anni underwent 46 sessions of radiation, accompanied by an experimental drug for DIPG. As of January 2016, she was doing beautifully, going to school and playing normally. But after radiotherapy stopped, her symptoms resumed: double vision, trouble swallowing, and difficulty moving her arms and legs. To help control these and ease the pain in her body, she takes high-dose steroids and morphine.
Anni’s undergone two IA treatments so far in Monterrey. Her tumor has shrunk since starting IA, and she’s able to move her right arm more than she was. Once she’s weaned off of steroids, she’ll be able to start immunotherapy, too, which will help kick start her immune system to fight this tumor.
While steroids have their place in treatment, their benefits come at a hefty price. Anni’s appetite has soared, she’s gained weight, and her skin’s become stretched and thin. This once petite girl struggles to fit into her now too small wheelchair, and what she sees in the mirror is a monster from which people run.
If only she could see what we do. Sometimes you need to close your eyes to see the truth. We’re running toward you, Anni.
Beautiful Andrea gained her angel wings on November 20, 2017. We love you forever, Andrea.
To read more about Andrea, please visit her Facebook page:
To donate, here’s the link to her Go Fund Me page: