.Annika (Anni) Meier rang a shiny gold bell to celebrate a momentous occasion: She was finally cancer free.
A huge smile came across her face, quickly echoed by applause and hugs.
Family, friends, doctors, nurses and others stopped by to celebrate.
Anni had been diagnosed with a medulloblastoma brain tumor in June 2021 at Corewell Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and had been going through in and outpatient treatment for almost two years.
While she still faces ongoing long-term physical, cognitive and neurological challenges, her family sees a bright future on the horizon.
And ringing the ceremonial bell is a huge step in saying farewell to childhood cancer.
It is something all children with cancer hope for, as it signifies getting back to being a kid again. And living a more normal life outside of the hospital.
Anni’s father Mark said her smile is contagious. And he cannot believe how incredibly brave she has been through the entire thing.
Mark said she had just had her first 12-month full brain scans done, and everything came back appearing stable.
“That was the first awesome news of the day,” he said. “And then we came back here … to a place where we spent a lot of time over the past two years. We had some really hard times here and some really good times too.”
He said Anni is a goal setter and is very strong.
“She had some things she wanted to accomplish today. And she did it,” he said.
Shocking holiday news
Anni started showing some symptoms around Christmas of 2020. Mark said she was sick to her stomach and had significantly less energy.
The symptoms stuck around on and off throughout the winter, and eventually got worse.
“We knew something was wrong,” he said. “We went through a lot of different tests before getting this diagnosis.”
The official diagnosis of a brain tumor came in June of 2021.
“She never once gave us a hard time,” he said. “And she still likes coming to the hospital. She always wants to see her friends on the 9th and 10th floor. They are family and friends here.”
Anni also has a special friend at home–an 11-month-old golden retriever named Tucker.
“He is always ready to see her after hospital visits,” Mark said. “He was her motivation through much of treatment.”
Mark said he and his family pray for all the children in the hospital every night.
They also set up a Anni’s Army Foundation to help other children who may be afflicted by this rare form of cancer.
“Anni and her smile are the face of the organization,” he said. “We have already helped some families here and hope to do a lot more.”
A celebration to remember
Kathryn Nichols, nurse tech on the pediatric oncology floor, was on hand for the bell ringing celebration. Along with about a dozen other family and friends.
“Everyone is here to celebrate Anni’s achievements, with the care team making it a special event for the kids and their families,” she said. “We all try to stop what we’re doing for these special moments if we can.”
The Child and Family Life team even created a giant, hand-painted banner to help put Anni in the spirit of celebration too.
She wore a pink hoodie with a giant necklace of bravery beads displaying her strength and courage.
Bravery beads are are handed out one at a time for facing tough treatment moments like pokes, injections and chemotherapy treatments.
Anni’s brother Cam said this has been a scary time for him and their family.
“She had been in the hospital for months, and every day I would come home and she wasn’t there,” he said.
“It feels great after everything we have been through. It’s just a relief.”
The crowd cheered and music played as Anni was rolled under her celebration banner for a photo. Her brother gave her a big hug and stood at her side.
“Speech can be difficult for her, but you can tell she’s enjoying the moment,” Mark said.
“Safe travels home today, and congratulations again,” Beth Kurt, MD, said. “You celebrate big tonight, OK?”
Nursing Technician Sarina Vigil gave her a hug and wished her well too.
She said she has never seen any other child with more bravery beads and asserted that she deserves every single one.
“I’m so happy for you. I love that you have all those beads and I love you so much,” she said. “It was a lot today. It’s been wild. I’m proud of you, girly.”
Rebecca Loret de Mola, DO, Anni’s oncologist, said it was a difficult tumor to treat, but that she did great in therapy.
“This particular type is very aggressive and comes with risk,” she said. “It is curable, but we need to use high doses of radiation and chemotherapy.”
She said Anni is one of a kind.
“To get to this point is incredible,” she said. “She always has such a good attitude. Everything she has been up against, she always met with a smile.”
Dr. Loret de Mola added that these celebrations are somewhat rare in her area, so today was exceedingly special.
“I’m a physician who works with brain tumors,” she said. “Half of the children I work with will never get to ring a bell. So, I am so thrilled we were able to do this.”