Allistaire Anderson was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the most aggressive form of the disease, in December 2011 when she was 21 months old. She had been extremely tired and grumpy which was attributed to getting over a bad virus, teething and ear infections. However, once her skin became severely pale and yellowish, she was taken to see the pediatrician and it was determined that she required an immediate blood transfusion. The doctor would later say that with such a low red-blood cell level, she would have died within 2 to 3 days without intervention. She was treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital and went into remission after her first round of chemotherapy. After over 5 months of living in the hospital, she completed her treatment in May 2012 at which point her family moved to Bozeman, Montana, her father, Sten’s, hometown.
She remained in remission and enjoyed playing with her big sister, Solveig, going on hikes and frolicking in the snow. However, in February 2013, a small, dime-sized lump on her back was biopsied and turned out to be leukemia cells. The relapse of her cancer required she and her mother, Jai, to return to Seattle for her treatment. This time treatment went very poorly, and round after round of chemo failed to slow the progression of her disease. Her only chance for survival was to have a bone marrow transplant, but her marrow was too full of disease as it was nearly 100% leukemic. In addition, her cancer had spread to eight additional locations outside of her bone marrow. Her family was told multiple times that they could cease treatment and take her home to die. Yet Allistaire’s feisty spirit stayed very strong and miraculously the spread of her disease did not overtake her organs.
Then she received the absolutely greatest gift – a clinical trial through Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center that provided for a bone marrow transplant without being in remission. After undergoing intense chemotherapy and localized radiation, on June 18, 2013, Allistaire received bone marrow from a 37 year-old women in Europe. After 148 straight-days of being hospitalized at Seattle Children’s, Allistaire was discharged in late July and early tests indicated no evidence of the leukemia.
However, in August, her blood counts dropped showing that her cancer had returned. She then proceeded to have 7 rounds of chemotherapy which has almost never been given to children but has shown promise in adults, and was again in remission. She was able to return home to Bozeman in November 2013. Each month, for each round of chemo, she traveled to Seattle for about 10 days for treatment. She finished this course of treatment in March 2014. Despite complications of Graft Versus Host Disease resulting from transplant, Allistaire, her sister Solveig and her parents were able to go to Disney World for her Make-A-Wish trip. Her one year post-transplant follow up in June was summed up by the doctor who said, “it doesn’t get any better than this.” There was no evidence of cancer and her body was regaining strength.
She seemed to be doing so well and in the fall of 2014 began preschool, swimming lessons and dance classes. It was incredible to see her so alive and having opportunities normal little girls have. However, in late October, pain in her upper arm prompted a visit to the pediatrician. An x-ray of the arm was "very concerning," and so she and her parents headed to Seattle 2 days later where a bone marrow test confirmed her leukemia was back. A PET/CT scan showed six additional locations of disease in her bones themselves and in some of the soft tissue. Again, her only chance for survival is a second bone marrow transplant. Thankfully, due to the advance of cancer research, a new combination of chemotherapies has put her into remission. However, due to the extreme suppression of her immune system from chemo, she suffered a severe infection of her gut which resulted in sepsis. The combination of this infection with the accumulation of chemotherapy damaging her heart has sadly resulted in severe heart failure. It is now a race against time to give her heart time to hopefully heal and keep her cancer at bay so that she can be strong enough to endure a second bone marrow transplant. She and her mother are currently back at Seattle Children's where she is receiving treatment. Her options are dwindling, a very frightening place to be. Once again, her family clings to God and hopes for amazing new cancer research to provide the open door to life.