Anna – Medulloblastoma

Image of patient with doctor.

When she was 11, Anna Markiewicz of Erie, Pa., started having headaches at night. They’d go away and then come back. Her pediatrician thought they might be the beginning of migraines. “Never in a million years do you think this will be anything more than that,” said her mom, Jen. 

Then it got much worse. One Sunday, Anna had to grab on to the walls because she said the room was spinning. Her parents took her to a local hospital, where they did a CT scan. She was flown by medical helicopter to UPMC Children’s and admitted directly to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Anna didn’t have migraines — she had a medulloblastoma, a cancerous brain tumor that starts in the cerebellum, the lower back part of the brain. 

By Wednesday, Anna was in surgery and remarkably, she was home by Friday. As her mom says, “That was Phase 1.”

Phase 2 was radiation. Anna traveled to Pittsburgh every weekday for radiation – for six weeks. That’s when Child Life Specialist Annemarie McGraw entered Anna’s life. “The radiation was hard on [Anna]. She and Annemarie bonded in a special way and I’m so thankful. Everyone in the RadOnc Department were really wonderful to her. Kids get sick with radiation and people don’t realize that,” Jen says. 

Then, after a month off, Phase 3 — four months of chemotherapy. Anna was susceptible to infections, and as a result she was inpatient for much of the time from January to May. “The Child Life team were lifesavers. They helped her more than any counselor. I can’t say enough about them,” says Jen.

Anna experienced some hair loss as a result of those treatments, and that’s when Annemarie provided her with headbands from Headbands of Hope, a company that donates one headband to a hospital for a child experiencing illness for every headband sold.

In the spring of 2021, Headbands of Hope launched a contest for a headband design. Anna, now 13, had a design in her head — daisies on a dark blue background. She spent a few days polishing her design and submitted it late the night before it was due. “The next morning we received an email that she was selected as the winner. Lots of tears of joy, for sure,” says Jen. 

Her design, Anna’s Daisies, was produced and purchased nationwide throughout this past September, Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

Annemarie and Child Life Specialist Mike Shulock worked to have Headbands of Hope products sold at Children’s and throughout UPMC. Anna came in at the end of October for her routine MRI and clinic visit, and she was surprised to find members of her care team — including James Felker, MD, her primary oncologist — wearing her headband and a display of the headbands for sale in Lori’s Gift Shop at Children’s. 

The company donated more than 100 headbands to be given out throughout the hospital during the coming weeks. Going forward, for every headband purchased through Lori’s Gift Shop at Children’s, a direct headband donation will be made back to the hospital for our patients to help them through their journey, just like they helped Anna.