Ambassador Family

This year’s Ambassador Family, The Honeycutts

Written by Tara Honeycutt, Ansley’s mother

In July 2020, our family had just come off a “staycation beach trip”. Many people remember
the year 2020 for the pandemic shut down of businesses, schools, suppressed travel &
social engagements. People were fearful of the unknown Covid-19 virus that was plaguing
the world. However, that year, the virus was the least of our worries. Our family was about
to embark on a bigger unknown: CANCER.
Living in Wilmington, NC during the summer of 2020 afforded our family opportunities to
social distance while still enjoying the outdoors with our two children: Addyson (5) Ansley
(4). After a week of boating and beach time over the July 4th holiday, our daughter Ansley
experienced excruciating abdominal pain once we arrived back home from vacation. As
parents, we were concerned that it could be an appendicitis, so after contacting our
pediatrician’s office and taking Ansley through the mobile clinic for assessment, it was then
that we were sent over to the ED of New Hanover Regional Medical Center in our
hometown. Since only one parent could be with a minor child in the hospital due to Covid
restrictions, Calvin, stayed in the car with a friend while I assisted Ansley’s admittance.
Upon arrival at New Hanover, Ansley was whisked away for evaluation and multiple tests
(x-rays, MRI’s, CT scans, Bloodwork etc.). Nearly 4 hours later, we were moved from the ED
hallways on our gurney to a private room. Finally, we had peace & quiet with closed doors
and a sense of privacy. When doctors returned to discuss their findings, it was disclosed
that our precious 4-year-old had a mass on her liver. We were advised that New Hanover
was not specialized to oversee such a case and therefore, Ansley would immediately be
moved to UNC Children’s Hospital in Chapel Hill, NC.

Stunned by this unexpected news, a series of events unfolded that would forever change
our lives on that fateful July 7th day. Ansley was loaded into an ambulance and transported
to UNC Children’s Hospital during the wee hours of the morning. I rode with my daughter
Ansley & her dad followed the ambulance as we headed to Chapel Hill. Once at UNC, more
tests ensued, and it was discovered that our sweet Ansley had Hepatoblastoma, a rare liver
cancer that affects “One in A Million” children under the age of 3.

Ansley’s ‘mass’ was actually 3 tumors that ranged from 1 to 4 inches each. The mass
spanned 2-1/4” wide by 4” long and the tumors occupied three of the four quadrants in her
right liver lobe. Now the hard part began, how to help this child overcome this devastating
obstacle. Later that day, hope arrived in our room in the way of Dr. Patrick Thompson, a
Pediatric Oncologist & Liver Specialist assigned to Ansley’s case. His optimistic attitude and
gentle nature brought a sense of comfort to our family during a tumultuous time. His
expertise and knowledge on liver cancer reassured us that we had an experienced
physician to help us navigate these unknown waters. We immediately bonded and trusted
his opinions regarding our precious child.

It was decided that Ansley would undergo surgery a week later to install a chest port to
help with receiving IV medications but more importantly, to remove her 3 tumors and gall
bladder & prepare for two rounds of chemotherapy as a preventative measure. Although
the chest port surgery was a success, the attempt to remove the tumors did not go as
planned. When her surgeons opened her tiny body, they had to make the difficult decision
to abort the surgery and close her back up as her cancer had spread outside the liver to her
colon and abdominal wall. This was devastating news. This journey would not be a quick one
nor go according to plan. We now had to reset our goals, our life, and determine what would
be our Plan B.

Ansley’s medical team, comprised of Dr. Thompson, Dr. Hayes-Jordan & Dr. Akinkuotu,
were wonderful in working diligently to determine the best course of treatment to provide
Ansley with another opportunity to have surgery to remove her tumors. This would include
18 weeks of chemotherapy for this angel of ours. Chemotherapy is brutal. Watching your
child experience hair loss, nausea, vomiting, & diarrhea following those chemo sessions is
gut wrenching. Those were just the short-term effects which are easier to endure compared
to the long-term unknown side effects of chemo that can cause hearing loss, peripheral
neuropathy (numbness of the feet & hands), kidney failure, & long-term heart issues. The
neutropenic fevers were horrible and at times the closest moments Ansley came to death as
her fevers spiked beyond 102 degrees and her ANC counts which help fight infection were a
struggle to balance out.

Determination, perseverance, stubbornness, βighting spirit, and a relentless attitude are just
a few words used during Ansley’s journey to describe this βierce warrior as she battled her
cancer. After months of chemo treatments, severe weight loss, unexpected chest portal
repair surgery, extended hospital stays, blood & platelet transfusions, Neupogen shots, and
late-night emergency room visits, this spunky, fun-loving child received some incredible
news during the first full week of October. Her scans indicated that the chemo treatments
had worked to reduce the tumors that had expanded outside the liver. Her Tumor Team
agreed that Ansley could finally have her surgery to remove her tumors.

On October 13th, the UNC staff allowed both parents into the hospital for Ansley’s surgery.
After nearly 5 hours, Chief Pediatric Surgeon Dr. Hayes-Jordan informed us that Ansley’s
surgery was a success. She had removed all 3 tumors and resected a portion of the liver
along with her gall bladder (within the margins of the cancer) and a sliver of Ansley’s
stomach (due to either scar tissue or dead tissue from the chemo). The Medical Team were
extremely optimistic for Ansley’s recovery from this surgery and for what her post-cancer
maintenance program would provide for Ansley over the next 5 years through routine
check-ups at UNC.

Our daughter’s cancer journey has taught us a great deal. Faith, family/friends, and prayer
warriors are crucial to get through an ordeal such as this. Our faith in God covered us like a
huge umbrella and sheltered us from the storm at hand.

Although Ansley’s journey is not over, she is in a better place today than where she was in
2020. Ansley is in remission and thriving every day. We praise God Ansley’s Cancer had a
treatment option. We realize Ansley is one of the fortunate ones. Not every family has the
outcome our family experienced. As a family, we have a greater understanding of how
important the research piece is for Pediatric Cancer. Did you know that there is less than
4% federal funding allocated for pediatric cancer research in the US? That is just not
enough, our children deserve more.

Since we got back to Wilmington in the winter of 2021, I joined the Wilmington Mom’s
Cancer group to find a support system to help with the trauma I had encountered during
my daughter’s cancer fight. Through that private group and my personal goal to raise
awareness of childhood cancer, I became aware of the Reelin’ for Research campaign that
raised funds to ‘Land A Cure’ for childhood cancer. While fresh from our journey, our family
traveled to Morehead City that Spring 2021 to participate in our first ever Reelin’ for
Research event. Although, the weather did not want to cooperate that year it was still
humbling for our family to experience the Reelin’ for Research community. Ansley danced
on the outdoor stage as if no one were even watching while watching the boats arrive at the
docks. She had no care in the world, and it just brought smiles to all faces. We participated
in the celebration and awards party that evening. Tears fell from our eyes as we listened to
the Montana family share their vision of this Charity fundraiser and how proud their dad
would have been. We listened to other cancer families share their own successful cancer
journeys and cried when a family had lost their child to their cancer battle. It was evident
that those who participated in this event genuinely cared about pediatric cancer research
and how dedicated they are in finding a cure for ALL cancers. Reelin’ for Research has not
only raised financial support for UNC and its pediatric cancer research, but it has given us
HOPE that we will Land a CURE.

Our family found our MISSION statement that year……Ansley’s Anglers- FISH on for CURE!
We were surrounded with a renewed spirit to support this organization. After attending the
2021 Reelin’ for Research event, we have dedicated ourselves to become more involved.
Ansley has held her own Lemonade/Snow Cone fundraisers, Calvin & I participate in the
Wilmington Mom’s Cancer Group BBQ fundraiser by cooking the BBQ and we feel fortunate
that we are able to enter a boat in honor of Ansley’s Anglers for the R4R fishing tournament

each year. We are here to do our part as a family and help raise awareness of the need for
Childhood Cancer Research.

Cancer is tough to endure at any age, but every child should have a treatment plan. No child
should have to fight a cancer battle alone. With Reelin’ for Research, we too will continue to
show our love and fighting spirit to beat pediatric cancer as our family joins the βight to
Land a CURE. Come fight with us! We are #AnsleyStrong!

The Honeycutt family