Nine-year-old Sasha Dison is like most girls her age. She prefers spending her days playing with friends, conquering video games with her dad, crafting and painting. Unlike most girls, she has had cancer — rhabdomyosarcoma, a fast-growing cancer in the connective tissues — for about three years of her life.
Sasha, the daughter of Jonathan and Larissa Dison, learned she had cancer May 27, 2011. It was her last day of first grade at Piney Chapel Elementary School.
Mellanie Barksdale, Sasha’s teacher at the time, said everyone was devastated that such a beautiful little girl had the fight of her life on her hands.
Sasha continues that fight today.
Her mom Larissa, who is also a first-grade teacher at Piney Chapel, said, like most kids her age, Sasha prefers to be with peers. But — because of treatments — she is unable to attend school and can rarely have visitors.
Now, a student in Tina Murphy’s fourth-grade class, Sasha gets updates on what is going on in class and at school.
“Her classmates write her letters and notes,” Larissa said. “The school even made a video message for her, which she watched over and over. All teachers and students came in the school’s hall to tell Sasha how much they love and care for her.”
Larissa said separation and loneliness are not Sasha’s only challenges.
Since being diagnosed with cancer, Sasha has learned a lot about what the disease “can and can’t do.”
“She knows that some of her friends lost the battle with cancer, and this is a part of our life which we can’t avoid or hide,” Larissa said. “She sees new kids at our oncology clinic and asks, ‘Why do so many kids get sick with cancer?’”
Larissa admits she doesn’t know the answer.
“Sasha’s treatment was very intense (very strong chemo and radiation), so she knows how painful and exhausting the fight is,” Larisssa said. “Nevertheless, she also knows that she can make it through all the pain and despair with faith and hope for the future.”
Sasha has been treated at Children’s Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham.
“It is a wonderful medical facility,” Larissa said. “We are fond of Dr. Jeffry Lebensburger who knows how to talk to Sasha even when she is in pain or in a bad mood. He provides us with all necessary information about Sasha’s condition and her well-being.”
Sasha and her mom and dad love the nurses and child life staff at Clinic 8 an 8 Quarterback (Hematology/Oncology Unit).
“In three years, some of them became family to us,” Larissa said.
Right now, Sasha’s treatment plan is very unclear.
“She is not tolerating the current chemo treatment, so they stopped it,” Larissa said. “The doctors are researching the alternative treatment plan, but we don’t have it yet. Considering that rhabdomyosarcoma is a fast growing cancer, it is a very troubling situation for us, but we never give up.”
Like all kids, Sasha dreams of the future. She wants to be a vet and take care of small animals including cats, dogs, rabbits, reptiles, amphibians and more.
She has two cats — Kosha and Molly — as well as Milly the dog, Liza the lizard and a fish.
“The cats are her buddies,” Larissa said. “She hugs them, plays with them and she misses them when she is at the hospital.”
She also loves Liza, 3, a bearded dragon she is very proud of.
Her love of animals has fostered other dreams as well. She would like to go on vacation to a place where she can swim with the dolphins, play with sea lions, snorkel among the reefs and glide under the water with the stingrays. “She loves water and swimming, especially the beach,” Larissa said. “She fell in love with the ocean the first time she saw it at 5-years-old.”
“As a mother, I learned from Sasha how to live in a moment and not to worry about what is going to happen tomorrow,” Larissa said. “She doesn’t complain about her pains or not feeling well, but takes from life the most she can.”
Now, it is either building a fort out of blankets or looking for an undiscovered frog in the backyard, according to Larissa.
“She does not cry when fun plans are suddenly changed by a trip to the hospital (it happens way to often) and teaches us that life is unpredictable and we have to be flexible and thankful for what we have.”