Payton Sernick and her family had an extra reason to celebrate at Christmas this year.
After all, they were back in Estevan for the holiday, after spending a year in Alberta while she received treatment for cancer. It’s the second time Payton has had to battle cancer twice in her young life, as she was diagnosed with Stage 4 acute lymphoblastic leukemia and lymphoma in 2014.
The family arrived back in Estevan on Dec. 24, after receiving clearance from the doctors. It was also the day after she had checked off another milestone in her recovery from cancer – the 200th day following her bone marrow transplant for the cancer.
Her mother, Andrea, said it was a special feeling to be home for Christmas.
“It was nice to be home for Christmas and see some family over Christmas time,” said Andrea.
Payton had a final surgery at the Children’s Hospital in Calgary on Dec. 17 to remove two lines. One was a port-a-cath, which was installed in November 2017, for most of the chemotherapy to go through; and a broviac line, which was needed for the bone marrow transplant.
From there, the family needed to ensure she had recovered well enough before making the drive back to Estevan.
On the day before they were scheduled to leave Calgary, Payton started to bleed from where her surgery was, which was a source of concern for the family.
“We went back into the hospital, and spent some time there, and they seemed to get everything under control, and it looks fine,” said Andrea.
The family didn’t leave until the doctors were confident that they could do so. And so they had to wait until almost the last possible moment in order to make it back to Estevan for Christmas.
“She’s doing so well and we’re so happy with that,” said Andrea. “It’s been a long, long go.”
Payton underwent the stem cell treatment in June. She received 13 million cells, and according to her mother, those 13 million cells made friends with Payton’s other cells, and been able to take over and give her body a new life.
The first 100 days after the stem cell transplant were a critical time for Payton. There were times when she was ill while waiting to find out if some of those cells were working.
At the end of the 100-day cycle, they did a 100-day Facebook post that has been viewed tens of thousands of times.
Since the 100-day milestone was eclipsed, she has been able to go out in public more often, but the family has been very cautious. They still make regular trips to the hospital for checkups, and to check her fluids and her blood levels.
“We’ve been getting ready and prepared mentally to come home and get back into what life is going to be,” said Andrea.
After more than a year of doing her schoolwork through Facetime, and having a tutor visit her two or three times a week, Payton is looking forward to returning to her classes at Sacred Heart School/École Sacré Coeur.
It’s a little nerve-wracking, Andrea said, because there are a lot of cases of the flu floating around, and Payton’s immune system is low, and she doesn’t have her vaccinations any more.
“Her risks, when she gets sick, are less … than what they were a month ago, with all of her lines, because there’s lots of chances for infection with those lines,” said Andrea.
The vaccinations will have to be restored in a timely order as well.
Andrea noted that her family understands the difficulties associated with Payton’s immune system. She and Payton went to visit friends in Regina last week to celebrate the Sernicks homecoming. A couple of those friends are fighting cancer as well. But since Payton’s brother Beckham and father Cheyenne were a little under the weather, Beckham decided Andrea and Payton should be the ones to go to Regina.
She is also looking forward to getting back into dance with the Drewitz School of Dance, which she was part of before her second cancer diagnosis. And she is looking forward to seeing friends again.
And she has had discussion with her family about her Cancer Sucks Project, and what’s going to happen in the future. They aren’t ready to resume it just yet, because they want to get used to life in Estevan again.
The Cancer Sucks project was a fundraiser that Payton had for the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital of Saskatchewan in 2016. The success of the initiative played a big part in her being selected as the Saskatchewan ambassador for the Champions Program presented by Walmart Canada; Payton was selected before her most recent cancer diagnosis.
The family is grateful for the support they have received from the community during the past year. When they have been out in the community, they have received congratulations on their return from people they know.
“There are a lot of people who don’t get that support, and it’s an Estevan Strong thing,” said Andrea. “We had a nice surprise when we came home. We had some friends who had cleaned the house and stocked the fridge and washed all of our bedding.
“Honestly, that was by far the best Christmas gift I could have ever gotten.”
And while the family was thrilled to be back home for Christmas, Andrea said they think back to a couple of Payton’s friends who were in the hospital over the holidays.
“It’s fun to celebrate your own win, essentially, but really there are lots of kids who are still … in the hospital for Christmas, just like we’ve done for four years with a one-year break.
“It’s a good feeling to celebrate yourself, but keeping in mind that you know so many others who are going through exactly what you just went through.”