It was Halloween, and 8-year-old Mallory Rice should have been wearing a princess costume and trick-or-treating with her friends. Instead, she and her family began a scary journey into the fear of childhood cancer.

It started with headaches and frequent nausea that pediatricians didn’t think were cause for alarm. Her mother Daphnee decided to see if maybe her headaches were caused because she needed glasses, and made an eye doctor appointment on Halloween, 2012.

The ophthalmologist immediately noticed a problem. Something was pushing Mallory’s eyes forward and causing pressure. She had Optic Disc Edema in both eyes, which is swelling of the optic nerve that connects the eye and brain. A follow up appointment was scheduled, and Mallory rejoined her friends back at school.

The horrifying phone call came a few hours later. The eye doctor called Daphnee and told her to take Mallory to Lee Health’s HealthPark to get an MRI scan — immediately.

Then, the whirlwind: the MRI detected a serious egg-sized tumor and cyst on her brain, and Mallory was airlifted to St. Petersburgh, arriving early in the morning on Nov. 1. Surgery to remove the tumor was scheduled the next day.

On Nov. 3, she learned she had anaplastic ependymoma, a rare type of brain cancer. While only 200 new cases of ependymoma are found in children and adults in the United States each year, it’s the third most common type of brain tumors in children. Even more frightening, anaplastic tumors grow more quickly and typically spread into the surrounding normal brain tissue.

Her mother hasn’t forgotten that Halloween and “having to leave without notice. When Mallory was diagnosed, there were no facilities to help with her type of tumor.”

Back Home for Treatment

After the surgery, they family was able to return to HealthPark (Golisano Children’s Hospital opened in April 1, 2017) where Mallory started a trial program of radiation five days a week for eight weeks. By January 2013, her cancer was in remission.

“After Mallory’s surgery, she was able to return home to Fort Myers for treatment by the wonderful doctors and nurses in our area,” her mother said. “They were so supportive and had the best ‘we’re going to beat this’ attitude! It truly made the experience much easier to get through. They know what to say and how to help when you’re feeling overwhelmed. It was a really scary time.”

Cancer Free and Helping Others

Now 17, Mallory is a senior at Cypress Lake High School where English is her favorite subject. She loves photography and is hoping to pursue a career in the medical field.

While Mallory remains cancer free, she and her mother have not forgotten her experiences and remain tireless advocates for cancer research and support. “It wasn’t easy, but we were so fortunate compared to some kids,” Daphnee said. “We have our daughter and she’s alive. We’ve met so many other families and kids and our hearts go out to all of them. That’s why we’ve been a part of fundraising to build Golisano (Children’s Hospital) and want to continue to help now.”

A Facebook Page, Miracle for Mallory Rice, which was started when Mallory was in treatment, continues to ask for prayers for other children battling cancer.

Mallory and Daphnee also know they would have not gotten through the experience without the support and help from friends and family and participate in fundraisers for Barbara’s Friends – Golisano Children’s Hospital Cancer Fund.

Each September during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, the Clips for Cancer event raises money for Barbara’s Friends. All month long, community leaders will have their heads shaved by local children battling cancer. Clips for Cancer works just like fundraising walks or road races. Participants raise money from sponsors and other donors.

On Friday, Sept.4, Mallory will shave the head of a community leader, who will lose their hair in a symbolic show of solidarity with children with cancer who often lose their hair as a common side effect of cancer treatments.

“The best reason to help Barbara’s Friends is to keep local children and families here at home so they have the support of loved ones and friends,” Daphnee said. “Having to travel out of town for the initial surgery added anxiety and stress to an already difficult situation. We support Barbara’s Friends for that reason, so they can continue to grow the program so kids can stay close to home. We appreciate all Barbara’s Friends does to help the kids and provide care to the whole family.”

Clips for Cancer continues throughout September at Great Clips salons in Southwest Florida. Supporters can watch pediatric cancer survivors shave the heads of community leaders each Friday on Facebook Live.

To learn more and donate, click here.