Braham family shares journey with lymphoma

By Elizabeth Sias

At the end of September, Shayla Fisher’s mother was giving her a back rub and noticed Shayla’s neck was swollen.

The next day, the swelling had doubled. A day later, at her sister’s birthday party, Shayla’s lymph nodes were so swollen that it appeared she had no collarbone.

They visited the doctor’s office the next day, and an X-ray showed swollen areas around the heart. By the end of the week, Braham Area High School 10th grader Shayla was diagnosed with stage three Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Following diagnosis, Shayla underwent three weeks of doctors’ visits with biopsies, blood work, PET scans and CT scans, which showed the cancer had spread to her spleen.

From left, father Shawn Fisher, sister Grace Fisher, Shayla Fisher and mother Kris Lilienthal with their dog Buddy. Photo by Elizabeth Sias

On Oct. 18, 15-year-old Shayla had the first of four three-day inpatient chemotherapy sessions at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. Shayla and her family are hoping the next scans show progress from the chemotherapy.

“She’s a really happy, positive kid,” Kris Lilienthal, Shayla’s mother, said. “Not too many things get her down.”

Shayla doesn’t like pills or needles, but she has an access port by her collarbone that allows medicine to be administered and blood to be drawn.

She attends classes regularly in Braham and doesn’t let the disease define her, living day-to-day as normally as she can.

“I don’t really think about it,” Shayla said.

Network of support

Recently, a friend from school was asking how much it cost to drive down to Children’s and park. Shayla estimated, and the friend told her, “Cool, because we raised some gas money for you.”

Students and teachers at the high school had rallied together to raise around $300 for Shayla.

At a football game, cheerleaders painted buckets with purple ribbons — the color representing lymphoma — and took donations, raising another $300. The volleyball association also donated $150.

“There’s been a huge network of support in the community,” her father Shawn Fisher said. “The support through the community has been awesome. It’s very reassuring that people are out there.”

On Jan. 21, the Braham Fire Department is hosting a benefit dinner at Braham Area High School from 4 to 7 p.m. to raise money.

And the family started a Caring Bridge website for Shayla, which already has hundreds of messages of support and encouragement from friends and family.

This isn’t the first time Shayla has undergone a strenuous experience. When she was almost 5, a little girl with E. coli infected Shayla at daycare. The girl passed away, but Shayla survived after a month of hospitalization.

“We always think, ‘it could always be worse,’” Kris said.

Doctors told the family that the type of lymphoma Shayla has is one of the most curable cancers, Shawn said.

“Success rate is very high,” he said. “For me, that’s been a huge positive.”

Kris agreed, saying she holds on to that thought and keeps a positive outlook. Both Shawn and Kris said the staff at Children’s has been outstanding.

“Children’s is incredible,” Shawn said. “It’s a very dedicated group of individuals who are very compliable with families’ needs and issues. Nothing gets in their way.”


“I’m going to kick its butt”

Shayla’s parents describe their daughter as a quiet, private person, but friendly — and outgoing with her own group of friends.

She was excelling in volleyball when she was diagnosed, and hopes to pick it back up next year. In her free time, Shayla likes to jump on the trampoline — impressing neighbors with her back flips — and ride the four-wheeler.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, Kris recalls Shayla didn’t get down at all.

“I’m going to kick its butt,” Shayla had said.

And when she started losing her hair, Shayla took it in stride, asking her mom to help shave her head.

“It was very neat to see how positive she is with her hair coming out from what the chemo does,” Shawn said. “She didn’t miss a beat.”

She had run up the stairs smiling afterwards, saying “I don’t have any hair swinging in my face!” Kris recalled. And Shayla enjoys sleeping in a half hour later without having to straighten her hair.

“Thankfully she’s so upbeat,” Kris said. “She helps us adults get through. You look at her and she just smiles, and it’s like ‘Okay, today is a good day.’”