Community rallies around 9-year-old First Nations girl with terminal cancer

·3 min read

After receiving a devastating diagnosis, a nine-year old First Nations girl is receiving an outpouring of support from her community and a local hockey team.

When Arizona Burns started to lose weight rapidly, run low on energy and feel nauseous this past summer, her mother Sharice Cardinal knew that something was wrong.

"She was always really energetic; she's a fancy shawl dancer," said Cardinal.

"In women's fancy you have to have really high endurance."

The family lives in Morinville, Alta., about 30 kilometres north of Edmonton, and are members of nearby Alexander First Nation.

Arizona has two siblings, an older brother and a seven month old sister. Her mother said Arizona dislikes being the centre of attention, even at Christmas when it comes to opening presents, and always puts others before herself. Her family calls her "the baby whisperer" because of her gentle caring nature and love for babies.

Submitted by Sharice Cardinal
Submitted by Sharice Cardinal

Over the summer doctors ran numerous tests on Arizona but weren't able to find the cause of her illness. The family turned to Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton at the end of September, where Arizona was eventually diagnosed with a brain stem tumour.

On Oct. 9, she was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive form of terminal cancer. Doctors gave her six months to live.

"We decided to take her home, keep her comfortable and happy and make the best with what we have," said Cardinal.

Triple A hockey team lends a hand

As news about Arizona spread through Alexander First Nation, people began reaching out to see how they could help.

Brandy Poorman got in touch with Cardinal when she heard the news and her son Brandon Poorman overheard the conversation.

"He was really upset that a kid was going through that and he wanted to help," said Cardinal.

The young man turned to his Triple A hockey team for a way to help.

"I contacted the coaches and they were fully on board," said Brandon Poorman.

Scott Neufeld/CBC
Scott Neufeld/CBC

"They wanted to help this little girl."

They created a goal jar, where over the next couple of games, whenever players scored a goal, donations would be collected.

The starting amount of the goal jar was $100 donated by Brandon Poorman on behalf of the U16 AAA United Cycle and Sports hockey team.

His mom, Brandy Poorman, said it's a beautiful thing to see kids helping kids.

"I know his heart's in the right place and we always teach our kids to do for other people," she said.

The team hopes to have Arizona attend a game soon where they will be able to present her with the funds raised.

Word of Arizona's fight also caught the attention of Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds who sent her a video message.

Submitted by Sharice Cardinal
Submitted by Sharice Cardinal

Sharice Cardinal shared the video on Facebook and said her daughter was so excited it made her all teary-eyed.

Cardinal said she has a good support system and has been finding comfort within their culture.

"The things I've learned over the years from the people I've come into contact with — my teachers, my family — has shaped me to be strong as a mother," Cardinal said.

"We're at a time in the world where there's so much fighting, it can be a real ugly place, it's amazing how one little girl can bring so many people together."