St. Thomas, Ont. family racing to get cancer treatment for 11-year-old daughter

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An 11-year-old St. Thomas, Ont., girl is fighting the clock to receive life-saving treatment for Stage 4 melanoma.

Kristy and Dave Costa’s daughter, Lacey, has had an intense battle with cancer for nearly a year.

Before cancer, Lacey was described as an inquisitive girl who loved helping others and animals, according to her mom.

But now, her parents say their daughter spends most of her day in bed with a 24/7 pain pump attached to her body to give her some relief.

“She’s a warrior through this,” her mom told 980 CFPL. “She’s really trying to remain positive, (but) the more she continues on and the harder day-to-day tasks become, you can see a little bit of that light changing.”

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Lacey’s medical journey

In 2018, a mole developed on Lacey’s left hand. It was eventually removed, but in 2021, a bump formed at the same spot.

Lacey’s parents sought for medical attention but say they did not receive any sense of urgency from medical staff.

Doctors said the bump was a scar tissue but the family questioned this diagnosis because the bump was growing on a weekly basis.

In December 2021, Lacey was referred to a surgeon and a biopsy was done. That’s when her parents found out their then-10-year-old daughter had Stage 3 melanoma.

A partial amputation of her left hand followed. Three fingers were removed.

The family had very little follow-ups on tests and was “quietly discharged,” said Dave.

Then, in April of this year, the pain returned. Lacey’s parents requested scans.

By the end of May, Lacey was still doing her favourite activity: dancing, but two weeks later, she couldn’t get out of bed.

“That’s a really quick turnaround,” said mom Kristy. “Since June, she couldn’t even sit in a wheelchair for more than 20 minutes because she’s in so much pain.”

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On June 20, it was confirmed that Lacey had “pretty extensive metastatic melanoma throughout her body,” said Dave.

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This included her bones, spine, lungs, the back of her head and other places in her body.

Lacey began receiving immunotherapy but her tumors continued to grow and the melanoma spread even further.

Throughout Lacey’s medical journey, her parents say their daughter was neglected by the health care system.

Kristy and Dave say they sought medical attention for their daughter on multiple occasions but was either ignored, postponed or not properly examined.

“It’s really been a fight to get the required people to look at her and do the tests… it was exhausting to just continue to push harder. That shouldn’t be an obstacle that parents should have to overcome.” said Dave.

“Even now, it’s still frustrating. We’re still fighting and pushing for things we think should be there.”

“Watching our little girl go through this is devastating,” her mom said, her voice shaking. “It feels like she’s been let down.”

“I think our system is very strapped in resources and the perception that everything is covered is not the case,” her dad added.

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A talented dancer before cancer took over

Kim O’Neill-Del Guercio still remembers meeting Lacey for the first time when she was three years old.

She remembers her pink ballet skirt as well as her excitement that lasted throughout the years.

“She’s one-of-a-kind. I don’t know what else to say about her. She’s just the most amazing little girl.”

O’Neill-Del Guercio is the owner of the O’Neill Academy of Dance and one of Lacey’s dance teachers.

She says Lacey had danced at the studio for eight years and joined the competition team two years ago.

“The studio was her life… This is really her happy place,” O’Neill-Del Guercio told 980 CFPL.

She describes Lacey as wonderful, funny and strong.

“My Lacey is such a special girl, and she’s the funniest, wittiest, most sarcastic girl” O’Neill-Del Guercio laughed. “Her one-liners and comebacks are hilarious.”

Lacey Costa at a dance competition with friends. GoFundMe

Lacey stopped dancing when her cancer got worse, but her dance teacher says she still competed for an entire season from February to April after her left-hand partial amputation in December.

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But starting in April, Lacey began to feel pain, which impacted her dancing.

“We could see it in class. She’d complain that her left leg was sore. She was having trouble jumping.”

The cancer had spread and Lacey was unable to finish the competition season.

“When we come in to teach, there’s a dancer missing… and that’s difficult. Kristy not being in the lobby… there is somebody missing,” O’Neill-Del Guercio sighed.

The dance studio owner says they’ve tried to keep Lacey involved and connected via Zoom calls, but “it’s not enough. It’s not what’s going to make her happy… It’s heartbreaking. You want her to be in (the dance studio).”

Moving forward

Lacey’s conditions are life-threatening, her parents say.

“We’ve already had conversations with the oncologist about end of life and DNRs (do-not-resuscitate orders), so they’re definitely prepping us for that situation,” said Dave. “(The doctors) shared with us that she has possibly weeks to months to live unless we can get something working.”

Kristy and Dave say their daughter’s condition was “100 per cent preventable.”

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“If people were curious and suspicious in a timely manner, this wouldn’t have metastasized to the way it did,” said Dave. “This was not a cancer that was growing inside of her that was not visible. It was a tumor on her hand that was visible and nobody had a sense of urgency about it.”

“But it’s already too late, because now, it has metastasized,” Kristy added.

The family is seeking second-line immunotherapy combined with targeted therapy for their daughter, but the treatments are costly; around $20,000 every three weeks.

O’Neill-Del Guercio has set up a GoFundMe to support Lacey’s treatments with a goal of raising $75,000.

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