Lakeland Community, Family Support 9-Year-Old Warrior in Fight Against Cancer
by PAUL CATALA
photos provided by HUTSON FAMILY
Aubrey Hutson’s health journey began at 7 years old in 2021 with knee pain that led to doctor’s office visits and trips to the emergency room. Eventually, the young Lakeland girl and her family received the diagnosis: rhabdomyosarcoma.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common childhood cancerous soft tissue sarcoma in children. With the disease, tumors develop from muscle or fibrous tissue and can grow in any part of the body with the most common areas around the head and neck, bladder, and reproductive system.
When Aubrey first complained of the knee pain, her mother, Lyndsi Hutson, assumed it came as a result of Aubrey’s participation in softball, where she was an all-star player. Hutson says she was also told the pain was the result of growing up and that she should give Aubrey an over-the-counter pain reliever to soothe it.
However, rhabdomyosarcoma is a very rapidly spreading cancer. By the time Aubrey was diagnosed, she was already in Stage 4, meaning the cancer had spread from its original location to other parts of the body, often referred to as metastatic cancer.
In June of 2021, instead of playing with her fellow softball league all-stars, Aubrey began treatment at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital.
“We began a fight that no parent ever imagines will happen to them,” Hutson remembers.
That initial fight included more than 90 chemotherapy treatments and 40 treatments with direct-beam radiation.
Hutson says it was a difficult and frightening time for her and her husband, Robert Hutson, who temporarily stopped working as a grocery store manager to stay by his daughter’s side. But Aubrey has two sisters — 10-year-old Emmalyn and 5-year-old Olivia — who also needed their parents’ attention.
“As parents we watched her deteriorate physically, but we had one goal — distraction. We knew that keeping a positive attitude is so much of the battle with cancer, so we were determined to make her fight one so she could look back on and remember good stuff, not just scary stuff,” Hutson says.
She says the priorities within the Hutson family shifted, and “trivial things didn’t matter.” Efforts were made to have someone by Aubrey’s side during treatments, and each day the family set out to accomplish goals Aubrey had set. The community of family and friends began to rally, fundraisers were held, donations were made, and prayers were steady.
After 60 weeks of treatment that brought pain, sickness, and hair loss, Aubrey was cancer-free.
This past May, when Hutson says the family was just starting to feel normal again, Aubrey, now 9 years old, had routine scans performed. Those scans revealed a reality the Hutson family had feared: a rhabdomyosarcoma relapse. Generally, returning cancer becomes more aggressive and harder to treat and cure. Within a week, her chemo port was reinstalled, and the next fight was underway.
“We have no plan at this time; it’s trial and error with treatment,” Hutson says.
“It’s heartbreaking, because there just isn’t the research needed to cure this. But we’re determined to be in the percentage that lives; anything else isn’t an option.”
Currently, Aubrey is still getting blood count and chemo and scans treatment once per week and around those and school, the Hutsons keep busy with sports and doing other fun activities as frequently as possible. Hutson says the treatment routines have gotten harder because her husband can’t leave his work as the owner of his new business, Hutson Discount Groceries in Port Richey.
Despite the setback, Aubrey says she feels “pretty good,” and her current treatments are working. She says to keep her mind off her condition, she enjoys painting and playing softball in the North Lakeland girls softball league when she can. She’s also made a trip to Busch Gardens in Tampa and has enjoyed road trips with her family across Florida and Georgia.
“When I found out, I was sad, I was scared. I was really upset, too, because I had so much hair and had to lose it again,” Aubrey says “But I’m still positive. I’m confident it will all turn out good.”
Hutson says this second fight against rhabdomyosarcoma has been especially challenging because the family’s savings were depleted by the previous treatments and they’re behind on their finances. The community has still come together once again to show the family love. Those around the Hutsons have raised money through furniture and custom T-shirt donations and have even paid for some family meals.
That support gives Hutson a comforting feeling that the best results for Aubrey and the family are still ahead.
“That’s because we know that the world is full of good people; we see it every day,” she says. “Aubrey is so well-known that every place we go someone talks to her and tells her they’re praying for her, and what that does for her cannot be put into words. She knows how loved she is.”
You can follow Aubrey and her family at facebook.com/TeamAubreyHope.