Childhood Cancer Heroes

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Olivia Steffensmeier

  • Rhabdomyosarcoma

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Eight-year-old Olivia loves school, art, reading, swimming, riding her bike and playing with her sisters. Her happiest days are spent with her family and friends. 

While on a beach vacation in North Carolina with her family, Olivia’s dad noticed she had a swollen lymph node Saturday night at supper. For a few days, they thought it might just be the cause of a sinus infection and Olivia took antibiotics. But by Monday, there was a large sore inside her mouth. The next morning, Olivia visited the ER at the beach where a CT scan revealed a large mass in her sinus cavity. Her family rushed back to their home in Iowa. That following Friday morning, Olivia was sent for a biopsy, and was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma that afternoon.  

Olivia has completed 20 days of radiation, 42 weeks of weekly IV chemotherapy, and 24 weeks of oral chemotherapy. The first week of December 2022, Olivia had her final dose of oral chemotherapy and end of treatment scans. Her treatment was successful and today, a year post treatment, she still has no evidence of remaining disease! Olivia will have regular follow up scans and labs every three months for the next four years to monitor the high risk of recurrence for rhabdomyosarcoma.Although she has been through so much, she continues smiling. Her family’s hope is for Olivia to continue to embrace her sweet, curious and loving spirit. 

Olivia’s heart has always been big. She cares about every person and animal and is so curious to learn more. She’s had to brave a lot of change from her normal fun of school, friends, and activities, and deal with a lot of changes. However, she’s stayed positive and looking for the good in what’s to come next. Today she is busy playing basketball, attending school regularly, and continues to amaze her family with her kind heart and want to give back. She regularly collects and donates pop tabs for our local Ronald McDonald House and worked with her school to create inspiring bracelets, cards, and keychains for other kids with cancer. Her spirit and love have remained strong and she inspires so many people every day. This is what makes her a hero to her family. 

It is difficult to go through something like a child’s cancer diagnosis. “Find the little wins in each day,” advises Haylie, Olivia’s mom. “This will be hard, and some days will be unbearable, but there is always, always something good. Leaning into those little wins is what keeps this journey doable.” 

One thing Haylie thinks is good is the work foundations like Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) are doing to help kids who are fighting cancer like Olivia. In July 2021, shortly before Olivia was diagnosed, Haylie and her daughters participated in an ALSF fundraiser at their local ALDI, of which her Boppa (grandpa) is manager. They participated in the ALDI fundraiser again in 2022. To Haylie, ALSF shows there is a clear effort of awareness and activism for pediatric cancer taking place. Her hope is that through the best practices ALSF follows, new, safer protocols can be determined for kids, and families can be met with more hope and confidence.  

Information provided by Haylie S., Olivia’s mom 
Updated December 2023

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