Khyrstin Andrews, better known as Kyssi, is usually late for her doctor's appointments. The 5-year-old cancer survivor is a bit of a celebrity, and she's often stopped by other MD Anderson patients who want to meet her or pose for a picture. Her positive perspective and unique style have inspired thousands who face similar journeys.
Kyssi's Wilm's Tumor and lung cancer journey
Kyssi was diagnosed with a Wilm's tumor May 1, 2012. After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, she rang the bell and entered remission. But not long after that, her Wilm's Tumor returned with metastasis to her lungs. Doctors said she had a 30% chance of survival.
Armed with a contagious smile and an ever-growing Hello Kitty clothing collection, Kyssi stayed strong through her lung cancer treatments: a surgery, frequent hospitalization and after her first chemotherapy didn't shrink the cancer, another nine rounds of an intense type of chemo commonly referred to as ICE. ICE is named for the initials of the drugs used: ifosfamide, carboplatin and etoposide.
But 2014 is off to a great start for Kyssi and her family. In mid-January, she was declared cancer-free.
Spreading hope through community
Each day, Kyssi's mom, Marla, checks Kyssi's Facebook fan page and reads hundreds of messages and comments from her daughter's more than 121,000 fans. They share encouragement, prayers and stories of how Kyssi has helped them in their journey.
"They see that my baby can do it, and they believe they can do it," Marla says. She recalls a message from a woman who was coping with depression and contemplating suicide. But she found hope when she saw how Kyssi was fighting to live.
On Facebook, Marla shares pictures on Kyssi's good and bad days. She wants others to see the reality of cancer and to know that, no matter how difficult the diagnosis, there is hope.
She tells other parents caring for children with cancer to learn as much as they can about the treatment, but to, more importantly, find time to make their kids smile and to stay close as a family.
"Being happy is the best cure for anything," she says.
Finding a new outlook after a child's cancer diagnosis
Kyssi's Facebook page doesn't just help her followers. It helps her mom, too. Shortly after Kyssi's cancer returned, Marla's mother passed away and other personal troubles arose. It was a tough year, but seeing the encouraging comments on Kyssi's page always brought a smile to Marla's face.
"Every day is not sunshine," she says. "But when there's darkness, light has to come."
When Kyssi was first diagnosed, Marla wondered, "Why my baby?" But over time, she changed her outlook to, "Why not my baby?"
Marla didn't know what life was like for children with cancer before Kyssi was diagnosed. Now, she works to spread childhood cancer awareness. She has also used Kyssi's celebrity to promote blood donation drives for cancer patients. Kyssi has even appeared on Houston area news programs to inspire potential donors.
"Kyssi is a two-time cancer survivor," Marla says. "She can do anything."
Marla never expected motherhood to include cancer and keeping in touch with her daughter's thousands of fans. But now, she's grateful for the opportunity.
"We're a real-life family, in a real-life situation," she says. "And we just want to make a real life difference."