Story by: Emily Jordan on September 26, 2023
Winning the battle against pediatric cancer takes a team approach — a team with the strength of many disciplines working together to provide advanced pediatric cancer treatment.
It’s hard for Annashae Wyatt to remember life before her diagnosis. While most kids her age were starting to explore the world, Annashae’s took an unexpected turn. At just 4 years old, she was diagnosed with Type 1 neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form in nerve tissue.
At the time of her diagnosis, doctors discovered she had developed optic pathway glioma, a brain tumor that had wrapped around her optic nerve, causing her to lose her vision.
“We were devastated to hear the news. We were immediately worried about her getting the right kind of education and making sure her being blind wouldn’t knock her off track in life,” Annashae’s mom, Jayme Brawand, said as she explained how the diagnoses changed the whole family’s life.
But from the beginning, Annashae showed remarkable strength and a determination to keep smiling.
“People ask me how I deal with her being blind and not get mad,” Jayme said, “and I say because she’s not mad — and if she’s not mad and it’s her body, then I have no right to be mad.”
Losing her sight due to optic pathway glioma has presented Annashae with numerous obstacles. Everyday activities that most children take for granted have become a challenge for her. Simple tasks, such as navigating her surroundings and playing games, require extra attention. However, Annashae doesn’t let it get in the way of her having fun and learning new things.
“I know Braille and I love to read!” she said. “Doing art, singing and dancing are my favorite things!”
Throughout Annashae’s two-year treatment journey, her care team at Norton Children’s has been a constant source of support and encouragement. From her first appointment, they have been by her side, providing compassionate care and innovative treatments.
“We treated Annashae with chemotherapy for 15 months,” said Mustafa Barbour, M.D., pediatric hematologist/oncologist with Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. “Her ability to cope with such stress at a young age was so admirable. When I saw her before her chemotherapy doses, she was always talking about her favorite color, her favorite song or her new dresses.”
Annashae and her parents couldn’t be more thankful for the care and support they received.
“The doctors are phenomenal — all of them,” Jayme said. “They not only made her feel comfortable, but her father and I as well. One of her nurses would always sing to her when they gave her chemo, and it just made her day.”
“I love my doctors too,” Annashae chimed in. “They always make me laugh!”
Despite the hurdles she has faced, Annashae’s future is bright and filled with hope. She continues to inspire those around her with her resilience and fiery spirit. Annashae finished her chemotherapy treatments in December 2022 and had her chemotherapy port removed in May 2023, signaling a celebratory end.
Dr. Barbour is optimistic when it comes to her future:
“While unfortunately Annashae’s vision loss is permanent, the tumor is currently inactive and is unlikely to cause any other symptoms. She has a bright future ahead of her — I’m sure of it!” he said.
When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Annashae boldly exclaimed, “A singer and a doctor!”
She refuses to limit herself just because of her tumor and the challenges that come along with it. She is determined to live life to the fullest. With the unwavering support of her Norton Children’s medical team, her family and her tough spirit, Annashae’s journey serves as an inspiration to all. She reminds us that even in the darkest of times, positivity can light the way to a brighter future.
As Annashae put it, “It’s OK to be sad sometimes, but I try and be happy because my life is good!”
In 2021, Louisville philanthropist Tom Dunbar gave a $1.5 million gift to establish the Evan Dunbar Pediatric Cancer Research Program in memory of his son. This investment was matched with $500,000 from the Norton Children’s Hospital Foundation as part of a broader $20 million vision to advance clinical care and research. During the past two years, advancements have been made in studying immunotherapy for brain tumors and high-risk malignancies.
Now, thanks to the generosity of the Fight Foundation, another $200,000 has been given to fight childhood cancer. The Fight Foundation is led by former Norton Children’s patient and cancer survivor Caleb Buege, who turned his cancer experience into a way to inspire others — and save lives. The gift will fund research on cutting-edge technology that has the potential to create a universal treatment for solid tumors.
Learn how you can support lifesaving pediatric cancer research at HelpNortonChildrens.com.