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Toddler battling brain tumor celebrates end of chemotherapy

Lydia has genuine concern for everybody, according to her mother Annette Sanderson. Her energetic personality sticks in the minds of those who interact with her. (Riham Feshir / Enterprise)

When people run into Lydia Faith Sanderson, they're greeted with a warm smile, an energetic personality and sometimes a question.

"What did you do last night?" she asks.

And when people ask what her name is, she answers with Lydia Faith "Tough Cookie Cookie Monster" Sanderson.

The 3-year-old has known nothing but the chemotherapy life. At 8 months, she was diagnosed with an Optic Tract Glioma - a brain tumor.

Because she's used to chemotherapy and being sick as a result of the treatments almost her whole life, she gives doctors and nurses tips on how to insert needles or the type of drug she needs, her mother Annette Sanderson said.

"Don't forget the 1-inch needle and go slow with the saline because it tastes terrible," she told a doctor one day. "And don't forget my no-puke medicine; I need Zofran."

But last week, she said goodbye to chemo and will celebrate with a party in Park Rapids next week.

"No more pukey Lydia?" she asked her mom when she heard the good news.

Never gave up

Lydia, who lives in rural Osage, has been on five different types of chemotherapy.

One had adverse side affects that prompted doctors to tell the Sandersons that she wouldn't make it.

"We were told by the local doctors in Fargo to send her home and set her up with Hospice and keep her comfortable," Sanderson said. "They said she would not live to see a year old."

But her family never gave up on her.

Her parents took her to different doctors in the Twin Cities who said she could live a normal life around the tumor because it cannot be removed due to its placing in the middle of the brain.

And now the tumor has been stable for one year.

"Doctors said the brain is an amazing thing, it can learn to compensate the parts that can't function because of the tumor," Sanderson said.

And it has become "very evident," she added, referring to Lydia's advanced cognitive skills.

"Everybody she deals with, she sticks in their mind," she said.

But her cancer doesn't allow her to go out as often as her family would like her to. Her weak immune system has affected her immediate and extended families.

The Sandersons must screen everybody who plans to enter their home and they carry around disinfectants everywhere they go.

It's not that they're germophobes, it's about taking precautions so Lydia doesn't get sick.

The next step

Now that Lydia is done with chemo, the next step is nerve-racking, Sanderson said.

Lydia will need to get an MRI every three months for the next year to make sure the tumor is not growing. If she's still stable, she'll need an MRI every six months and then once a year for the rest of her life.

But for now, the family is excited for Lydia's immune system to start recovering in the next six months.

She'll be able to go to school next winter and make new friends. She'll finally get her childhood vaccinations. She will get to go to the park and the library and run errands with her mom.

She will also be able to see those who have supported her through her cancer battle.

"The community has been very supportive of her," Sanderson said.

Community members always ask, "how is our girl doing?" she said. "That's something that really has touched me."

Friends and family of the Sandersons will celebrate the end of Lydia's chemotherapy and the next chapter of her life at Lindquest Park in Park Rapids Saturday, Aug. 22.