Mighty Blog

Shining bright: Anja’s journey with childhood cancer 

Not quite 3 years old, Anja loves Mickey Mouse, dinosaurs and race cars. Her parents say she’s silly, loving and persistent — a quality that serves her well in her fight with cancer.   

It’s a fight that’s lasted most of her life. When she was just 9 months old — in March of 2020, at the height of the pandemic — doctors found a softball-sized tumor on her liver.  

Because of COVID-19 restrictions limiting the number of visitors, Anja’s mom, Nicky, remembers having to give her husband, Kyle, the news over the phone. The plan for their little girl: chemotherapy and surgery.  

Just a few days after the diagnosis, doctors at Children’s Minnesota removed almost all of the cancerous mass from the baby’s liver. The tumor was situated close to an artery, making the operation especially complex and delicate. “It was a miracle they could reach it,” says Nicky. 

It was a moment of relief. But it didn’t last long; a day later, her care team discovered a leak on the liver that was causing fluid to build up in the stomach. Anja was septic and needed another surgery right away.  

The operation was successful but all of the life-saving interventions took a toll: Anja fell into a coma for nearly a week. When she woke up, a music therapist was in her room, playing guitar. The little girl grabbed the therapist’s guitar strings in a moment her mom will never forget.  

The months that followed were hard. Chemotherapy was almost unbearable for Anja. The family ate, slept and even worked at Children’s Minnesota (the Geek Squad helped both parents set up remote work technology). In late 2021, doctors found a new tumor, this time in Anja’s lungs. She went through another surgery and a new chemotherapy regimen.  

Today the outlook is bright. Her most recent scans show no evidence of disease. She’ll need many follow-ups in the months to come, and years of specialized checkups. Anja will also need support developmentally as all of her treatments have set her back. Therapists at Children’s Minnesota are helping with that, too.  

Her family is so grateful. “The team at Children’s have been amazing and they’re still helping Anja fight,” says Nicky. “She’s got something special to her. She’s just so amazing, what she’s been through…and she just keeps trying no matter what. Anja just shines really bright.” 

Give to Children’s Minnesota 

When you donate to Children’s Minnesota, you help thousands of families like Anja’s. Your gift this month directly supports the cancer and blood disorders program at Children’s Minnesota, a team that cares for more than 3,000 kids — from babies to young adults — every year. We rely on your donations to surround every child in our Minnesota hospitals with the most extraordinary care: highly specialized, deeply compassionate, and designed to gives families strength when they need it most. Donate now at childrensmn.org/shinebrightforkids.  

Mai Songsawatwong