Handling Obstacles with Grace, Ani Ayanyan Leads by Example

By Tom Vartabedian

CRANSTON, R.I. — Ani Ayanyan, 10, blew out the candles on her birthday cake on March 7, but not before making a wish.

Forget the American Girl doll or a new bike. A trip to Disney World would be nice but not a priority. Neither is the dream of becoming an actress or a star athlete.

All Ani wanted for her birthday was the gift of life.

After battling cancer the past year, which led to the removal of a grapefruit-sized tumor in her brain, the ordeal has left her weakened, but not discouraged. Six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy produced the best news ever.

She is now tumor free, making her birthday wish a reality.

“What a great way to celebrate,” said her mom, Deanna. “Not one complaint and always with a smile on her face that goes with the flow. A follow-up visit to MGH [Massachusetts General Hospital] showed wonderful results. Her blood work looked great. Ani continues to amaze us all. By her last treatment in July, we’re optimistic that she will be on her way to becoming fully cured.”

The family gathered around her more as a celebration than a birthday bash. That was one party. Two others followed at other venues, thrown by a restaurant owner who endeared herself to the girl, and cousins embracing a sports theme.

A Boston Bruins jersey cake with the number “10” was perfect.

Over the past several weeks, she has returned to school and conquering the Motocross world on her dirt bike. She even tried out for a local hockey league and made the team.

She was paired up with a runner in the Boston Marathon in its Patient-Partner program at MGH. She took part in a dinner the day before.

On the day of the marathon, she and her mother went to the home of a doctor living at Mile 20 along the route to cheer on the runners.

Kids around the playground where she lives call her “Sporty Spice” because she is so athletic. She plays ice hockey, soccer, basketball, baseball and tennis, and in addition bowls and swims. She was aboutto joing the flag football teamwhen the brain tumor was discovered.

“Through the combined efforts of the MGH hospital staff, our family and friends, community, church, school, even strangers, it has made an unbearable part of our lives somewhat tolerable,” said her mother. “The positive energy that was expressed and the many prayers, all worked their blessing.”

It was a vigilant fight that involved 31 treatments over the six weeks, brightened by visits from Bruins and Celtics players. People from Rhode Island to Boston brought food and gifts during Christmas week.

“It was painful watching my daughter go through all that,” revealed Deanna. “Imagine what it must have been like for her. She persevered through it.”

Deanna lost her mom to a rare form of stomach cancer nine years ago. The side effects from treatment continue to remain vivid in her mind, especially now that the disease has tormented her own daughter.

“To see an innocent girl so full of energy going through such trauma makes you wonder,” she said. “Both my children have been very positive through this.”

Deanna has a younger son, Hagop, who was being cared for by friends while she remained by her daughter’s side throughout the duration of the treatment.

On the last day of her proton treatment, applause rang out as tears of joy were being shed throughout the room. Ani was given a bell to ring three times, along with balloons, gifts, even sparkling cider or “kids’ champagne” as she calls it. The bell tolling remains a symbol of victory.

“The staff was amazed at how she appeared daily with a smile on her face and joked with them, talking about the latest sports news with such a nonchalant demeanor,” said Deanna. “She even mentored a 7-year-old boy who was having a hard time. They soon became friends and eventually helped to mentor another child.”

A cancer benefit called Ani’s Angels took place at PJ’s Pub in Johnston. The family is closely associated with St. Vartanantz Church. The Rhode Island Armenian community stood behind the family every step of the way.

“I believe my Mom has been her guardian angel and will continue looking down from heaven and always keep her safe,” Deanna said. “With love, positivity and the power of prayer, all things are possible, including a cure for cancer. When I see people complain about the petty things in life, I give them my daughter’s battle as an example. I tell them not to sweat the small stuff.”