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Video: At 3, she survived breast cancer

  1. Transcript of: At 3, she survived breast cancer

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Back now at 8:10. And this morning on TODAY'S HEALTH , a very brave little girl who at just three years old was diagnosed with a rare type of breast cancer . We'll talk to her and her mom in a moment, but first Natalie has their story.

    NATALIE MORALES, anchor: Well, Matt , every year more than 10,000 children get the devastating diagnosis of cancer, but what this little girl has gone through shocked both her family and her doctors. It looks like a typical group of children playing like most kids do. But one of these young children is a breast cancer survivor.

    Ms. MELANIE HUNTER (Mother of Toddler Who Had Breast Cancer): I noticed when she was two and a half, she had a small lump on her left breast .

    MORALES: A few months later came a diagnosis that few parents of a

    three-year-old have heard before: Alicia Hunter had an extremely rare form of breast cancer known as juvenile breast carcinoma .

    Dr. NANCY DOWN (Surgical Oncologist, North York General Hospital): This is a pathology slide of Alicia 's cancer, which was a secretory cancer, and that's a very rare type of breast cancer .

    MORALES: As the tumor grew, it became very painful.

    Ms. HUNTER: She wasn't eating. She wasn't sleeping.

    MORALES: With her mom and her teddy bear Ash at her side, three-year-old Alicia had a radical mastectomy.

    Dr. DOWN: That meant removing the entire breast and the lymph nodes under the arm.

    MORALES: Six months later Alicia is now cancer free.


    MORALES: But she does understand and remember what she went through.

    Miss HUNTER: I had breast cancer .

    MORALES: She will eventually need reconstructive surgery on her breast, but for now she's simply enjoying preschool.

    Ms. HUNTER: She's extremely brave, she's extremely strong, and she's happy. She's a bubbly little four-year-old.

    Unidentified Woman: Get your wings up.

    MORALES: And she already knows what she wants to be when she grows up.

    Miss HUNTER: I want to be a doctor.

    MORALES: Perhaps someday helping other children just like herself. A remarkable girl dealing with an extraordinary situation. According to the American Cancer Society , just 5 percent of all breast cancers occur in women under the age of 40. Matt :

    LAUER: All right, Natalie , thanks very much. Alicia Hunter is now four years old. She's here along with her mom Melanie and Dr. Nancy Down , deputy chief of surgery at Toronto 's North York General Hospital . Good morning to all of you. Hi, Alicia . How you doing?

    Miss HUNTER: Good.

    LAUER: You doing OK? It's great to have you here. Melanie , before the proper diagnosis, which I think was a year or so ago, what were some of the other things doctors were guessing were wrong with Alicia ?

    Ms. HUNTER: They said it was a lymphatic malformation.

    LAUER: Did they think it was extremely serious, or did they tell you it wasn't going to be much of anything?

    Ms. HUNTER: They didn't think it was serious.

    LAUER: While you were going for these other doctors' appointments and they were all looking at it, did the word cancer ever cross your mind?

    Ms. HUNTER: No.

    LAUER: Never?

    Ms. HUNTER: No.

    LAUER: So when you got this diagnosis it had to be just completely life altering.

    Ms. HUNTER: Yeah, it was.

    LAUER: Doctor, this is not -- we want to stress -- the same kind of breast cancer that we often hear about in adults, correct? How's it different?

    Dr. DOWN: Well, you can see this type of breast cancer in adults, but it is one of the more rare types of breast cancer . The usual type of breast cancer in adults tends to be more aggressive. This one, fortunately, tends to be slower growing, tends not spread as aggressively, and the outlook is good.

    LAUER: And yet it still required dramatic surgery, a modified radical mastectomy.

    Dr. DOWN: That's correct.

    LAUER: I mean, how does a three-year-old get through something like that?

    Dr. DOWN: Well, I think there were a couple of things. First of all, the tumor by -- it was quite large by the time the diagnosis was made. And given its location and the size, it really did require removal of the whole area, which meant the breast. And we always have to check the lymph nodes because we wanted to find out whether or not it had spread. But one of the things was that Alicia was in a fair bit of pain.

    LAUER: Right.

    Dr. DOWN: Because the tumor was stretching the tissue. And so it actually came somewhat as a relief in the sense that her pain was gone after the surgery. So...

    LAUER: Alicia , do you -- you have no pain anymore? You feel pretty good? Yeah? I know your teddy bear helped you get through all this. Is this Bear or is this Ash ? Which teddy bear is it?

    Miss HUNTER: Bear.

    LAUER: Oh, this is Bear ? Yeah? Pretty good friend to have. Melanie , you have a different perspective now in terms of misdiagnosis, I would imagine, and what other parents might often go through.

    Ms. HUNTER: Yeah, I mean, you just have to trust your instinct and go for it.

    LAUER: And does she still have obstacles to go through? Maybe reconstructive surgery , things like that?

    Ms. M. HUNTER: Yeah. When she's older she'll have reconstructive surgery .

    LAUER: Her prognosis is good though, right?

    Dr. DOWN: Yeah, in her case we think it's going to be very good.

    LAUER: Oh. Alicia , it's nice to have you and Ash here. It was a pleasure. Melanie , thank you for coming in. We appreciate it. Doctor, thanks for the information. Appreciate it. Up next, we're going to lighten things up and show you what happened when Ann went back to high school and actually tried to join the marching band. That's right after this.

updated 1/20/2011 8:41:17 AM ET 2011-01-20T13:41:17

Four-year-old Aleisha Hunter is a member of a very small survivor's club: At age 2, she was stricken with breast cancer.

Her mother noticed a pea-sized lump on the left side of her daughter's chest and took her to doctors, who at first didn't know what was wrong. Aleisha, who lives in Ontario, Canada, was eventually diagnosed with juvenile breast carcinoma, an extremely rare form of breast cancer. As the lump grew, it became painful, and Aleisha had trouble eating and sleeping.

On Thursday, Aleisha smiled and snuggled with her mother, Melanie, and her teddy bear, Bear, as Matt Lauer discussed her unusual case with Dr. Nancy Down, a cancer surgeon at North York General Hospital.

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"Aleisha was in a fair bit of pain, because the tumor was stretching the tissue, so it actually came as somewhat of a relief in a sense because the pain was gone after her surgery," Dr. York said.

When Aleisha was 3, she had a radical modified mastectomy, which means doctors at North York General Hospital removed her entire nipple, areola, breast tissue and the lymph nodes under her left arm. During Aleisha's hospital stay, her mom — and her teddy bear — stayed at her side.

Aleisha's mom, Melanie, who works in a long-term care facility, told TODAY earlier that she's  talking about her daughter's rare cancer to raise awareness about breast cancer, and also because of all the ill children she met during Aleisha's many hospital stays -- she says she wants to remind parents to hug their children and tell them they love them.

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"She's extremely brave, she's extremely strong, and she's happy -- she's a bubbly little 4-year-old," Melanie Hunter told TODAY.

Now Aleisha is cancer-free, and doctors say her prognosis is good. Aleisha will eventually need reconstructive surgery, but for now, her biggest priority is preschool.

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