9-year-old Utah girl beats breast cancer, makes plans to train dragons
SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) At this same time last year, 8-year-old Chrissy Turner was busy decorating her family Christmas tree and preparing for a mastectomy.
Chrissy is now 9, in the fourth grade and cancer free. Her favorite color was blue this same time last year but has been replaced. You can thank her new star status in the world of breast cancer awareness for the color swap to pink.
Chrissy and her family are settling in for a quiet holiday season after spending the month of October traveling across the country. Chrissy was invited to speak about her experience. Her message is one of pushing for what your gut tells you. Doctors originally didn't think the young girl had cancer or anything to worry about.
"When I grow up," Chrissy said, "I will go out and find a dragon and I'm going to train it."
She sincerely wants to be a dragon trainer, her dream job that hasn't changed through the ups and downs of cancer. Her love for the movie "How To Train Your Dragon" has stuck around -- unlike her favorite color.
Chrissy's story has been seen around the world, gaining unprecedented attention as news broke of her diagnosis last year. One man who'd never met her, drew for her, her very own book on dragons. The first page is her favorite.
"Warning. Read the heroes guide to deadly dragons and you will die. We all die eventually."
It might be a disturbing start to a children's book -- unless you are Chrissy. There are scarier things than facing death. She's faced it head on and won.
Chrissy doesn't just like pink, the color of breast cancer awareness, she's made it a part of everything she does. She colors new dragons on a daily basis with her older sister Brianne, who likes sea creatures. Each is lucky enough to get their own pink ribbon.
The little girl has grown up a lot in the last year. Looking back, she recalls the shock of meeting with doctors at Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.
"They said it was a rare form of breast cancer" Her reaction? "I'm like -- what? Why do I have this? I thought it only happened with grown ups."
In most cases, grown ups are the ones dealing with breast cancer. But, breast cancer can happen to anyone at any age -- just ask Chrissy.
While one in eight adult women face a breast-cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, there are no statistics or treatment roadmaps for children.
Anette, Chrissy's mom, has a sense of calm about her this November, something she was struggling to find last year.
"I do really well until it draws closer to a check up and then the nerves start to come out again. It is hard not to worry, as a mom, about your little one. You can't shut it off."
Chrissy's parents are both cancer survivors. Anette beat a rare form of cervical cancer and her father Troy is still on a quarterly watch for non Hodgkins lymphoma. It is the same schedule Chrissy follows with her own team of doctors. Their three-month visits don't yet line up, making for more stress than any one family deserves.
"That is our new norm. What ever normal is that is the new normal for us. They basically do an ultrasound and they check it with a doctor and the doctor says OK you're good."
The 9-year-old knows exactly what doctors are looking for, she is a part of the conversation, her own best advocate.
Just last month Chrissy had a scare when she found a new growth on the opposite side from her mastectomy. Not ready to take any chances, Anette made an appointment. Doctors say Chrissy is simply starting to grow and develop and this change was normal.
Anette knows that her daughter's surgery last December was not the end.
"For her, the journey is still coming. The emotions will kick in, development starts, reconstructive surgery and a lifetime of change."
"They don't really talk little-kid talk to me," Chrissy said.
Her parents and doctors know they'll have to talk a lot over the years about the possibility of new surgeries slated, as she grows.
"I'll have to do it" she said. "But life is life."
Troy said he keeps his calm through tough times by, "keeping it on the inside so we can make it through those tougher times and them you take a sigh and a breath and life is good."
Life really is good for the Turner family. Chrissy has a fighting spirit and her 16-year-old sister is pretty proud too.
"It has been difficult, but watching her and her courage has really struck me in a way. Watching her walk into the surgery room, not a tear," said sister Brianne.
She has watched her little sister slay cancer and inspire on a national stage. She looks up to her baby sister as she's watched her navigate a very grown up situation.
"Her courage is something people that are older, I can't see having."
For Anette, the last few months have been "amazing" as she watched her daughter flourish. "To see what she is doing, and the gift she has given to other people, the hope she offers by speaking and sharing a a little sunshine with everybody."
"Listen to your children, don't take anything lightly. If you have a question, don't be afraid to take them to the doctor and question them if you need to."
Chrissy is cancer free today because she knew her own body. She found her lump and immediately told her parents.
"Don't be afraid to tell someone, if you are a kid tell your parents and don't be afraid to tell," said Chrissy.
Because she spoke up, her future looks bright. "Im feeling much better" she said.
"They are very positive on the outlook and will watch her closely of course. This kind of cancer can recur but not usually until later on in life," Anette said.
She said a clean bill of health is giving this family time -- and that they know it is all that matters.
"Keep your priorities in life straight. Don't get caught up in this busy, busy world and forget about what is important. Life is short and you only get one shot," Troy said. He has perspective that most will never have. His family has conquered cancer three times and they know their fight may not be over.
Chrissy will be tight with her doctors as she continues her three-month checkups. Her older sister is also watching her body closely as the only member of the family who has not been diagnosed with cancer.
This family encourages yearly exams at the doctors office and keeping an eye on your body at home.