Visit from classmates a wish come true for northern Manitoba girl fighting brain cancer in Winnipeg

After being diagnosed with brain cancer in December and spending weeks away from her home in northern Manitoba, Grade 4 student Kailyn Danielson had one special wish.

She wanted to spend a day in Winnipeg, where she's undergoing treatments, with her classmates from Cranberry Portage Elementary School.

On Wednesday, her wish came true, after a local charity, the Frontier School Division and an airline came together to bring her friends to Winnipeg for a special visit.

"It means everything to her," said Amy Danielson, Kailyn's mother.

"To have her class fly all the way from Cranberry Portage and spend the day with her is nothing short of amazing."

On Nov. 14, Kailyn was forced to leave her home in the community located about 600 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg after suffering a seizure. She was rushed to a hospital in The Pas, where preliminary tests showed a mass in her head.

She was immediately flown to Winnipeg for further tests and evaluation, and a little over a month later, doctors diagnosed Kailyn with brain cancer after finding a tumour. She's been at CancerCare Manitoba in Winnipeg since, and hasn't seen her classmates for months.

That changed Wednesday morning, when 17 students and three chaperones were flown to Winnipeg courtesy of Calm Air.

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The visit reminded Kailyn of better times, her mother said.

"From the very start, she's just wanted to go home, so for them to come here is like bringing a piece of home," said Danielson.

"I really appreciate them coming down," said Kailyn, who went to Winnipeg's James Armstrong Richardson International Airport to welcome her friends on Wednesday morning.

'A great little girl'

"When we first heard of Kailyn's condition, we were sad to hear [of] someone so young having to fight this battle," Calm Air CEO Gary Bell said in an emailed statement.

"With her wish to see her classmates in Winnipeg, we knew we could help make that dream come true for her, and wanted to help."

The Dream Factory, a Manitoba-based charity that grants wishes to sick kids, also helped make Kailyn's wish happen.

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"With a lot of letter writing and pleading, we were able to arrange for the whole class to fly to Winnipeg and visit Kailyn for the day," said Dodie Johnston, principal of Cranberry Portage.

"She loves school. She always has a smile on her face and is a great little girl."

Johnston said she was also struck by the fact that Kailyn's wish wasn't just about herself, but about seeing her classmates.

"We wanted her wish to be about herself and her family," she said.

Kailyn did have a different wish just for her and her family fulfilled, though.

"Her entire family got to go on a shopping spree … they got to take a limo, she got money to spend, and they spent the night at the Fairmont Hotel," Johnston said.

Love for school

Despite her condition and constant radiation therapy appointments, Kailyn's love for school never faltered. 

Before Wednesday's visit, her school found other ways to help her stay connected with her studies and her friends.

"The tech department hand-delivered her a laptop and got her all set up, so she can Skype into the class," said Johnston.

"We had our Christmas concert and she was able to Skype in and watch the entire concert," she said.

"One of the kids took around the laptop so she could wish everyone merry Christmas."

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Even as Kailyn awaited her diagnosis, the efforts of her friends and classmates to keep her spirits high helped, her mother says.

"For her to be able to watch from afar, it made a huge difference, even if it was just through a screen," said Danielson. 

"It still makes it special for her."

In spite of the hardships of the treatment and being away from home, Johnston said Kailyn sets an example for others.

"Life throws you all these challenges and Kailyn has shown us all how you step up," she said, fighting back tears.

"She's a role model for all of us."

The arrival of her classmates Wednesday came with another piece of good news, as Kailyn completed her final radiation treatment earlier in the day. She'll continue her battle against cancer with immunotherapy drugs.

'Mind-blowing' experience

Though Kailyn's friends have communicated through Skype and FaceTime with her, seeing her in person was special.

"There's no words," to describe the feeling of seeing Kailyn, said classmate Layla Brightnose. "I'm just really happy.… I never thought this would happen. It's mind-blowing."

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Johnston said in communities like Cranberry Portage, every person is like family, so when one person struggles it affects everyone. 

"There's 83 kids in our school, and they grow up knowing everything about each other," she said.

"It shows you how tight they are, and how much a community this is."

Kailyn's class planned to spend Wednesday doing science experiments and other fun school activities, along with their friend.

Kailyn is already preparing plans for when she gets home.

"My dad and I are thinking of redecorating my room and repainting it, getting a new bed — just making everything new," she said.