Karmanos resident and Build-A-Bear Foundation bring smile to pediatric patient with rare cancer

“When she comes here, she’s always glowing."


Bears, chocolate cake, donuts and lemonade – the Gershenson Radiation Oncology Center (ROC) at Karmanos Cancer Center in Detroit definitely looked different than a normal day. It was a party fit for Isabella Jade Hanson wearing her new Mickey Mouse ears, just one year after her cancer diagnosis.

“You’re the best thing ever! You know that?” questioned Rakhi Kaila, M.D., as she hugged Isabella tight.

Dr. Kaila, a radiation oncology resident through Wayne State University School of Medicine, has enjoyed treating children during her residency rotation at Karmanos. Seven-year-old Isabella is one of those special patients that helped Dr. Kaila realize she wants to treat pediatric cancer patients in her career. She even helped make Isabella’s dream come true by working with an organization who granted her wish to go to Disney World with her five siblings and parents. Now, just a few weeks back from vacation, she was putting another smile on Isabella’s face with her very own Build-A-Bear furry friend.

“Dr. Kaila has put in a lot of work to have the Build-A-Bear Foundation donate the bears,” said Steven Miller, M.D., the attending radiation oncologist Dr. Kaila had been working with when she met Isabella. “Her efforts to make this happen for our pediatric patients demonstrates the outstanding physician she is.”

Isabella isn’t the only child who will receive their very own teddy bear. Build-A-Bear Foundation has partnered with the Karmanos Cancer Foundation to send bears quarterly in 2023 to help put smiles on pediatric patient faces at Karmanos.

“Pediatric cancer can often be hard to treat, and it is often a long road for a child,” said Dr. Kaila. “The Build-A-Bear Foundation truly showed their passion for kids by donating these bears.”

Rakhi Kaila, M.D.

Isabella’s Fight

In March 2021, Isabella’s mom noticed what she thought was a boil growing on her backside. After multiple doctor’s visits, different antibiotics, watching the boil grow three times larger and many tests, Isabella’s doctors concluded that she had alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma.

“Alvelor rhabdomysocarma is a tumor of the connective tissue,” explained Dr. Miller. “This type of sarcoma is very uncommon for children – only 400-500 cases are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.”

Dr. Miller works closely with the pediatric oncology team at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, just a short walk from Karmanos. He is also a member of the Sarcoma Oncology Multidisciplinary Team at Karmanos, among other MDTs.

“We provide combined modality treatments consisting of radiation oncology and chemotherapy for pediatric patients,” he explained. “Our job is to work closely with Children’s Hospital to coordinate treatment for the pediatric patients.”

Isabella has undergone multiple rounds of radiation to shrink her tumors, following chemotherapy. Though those were successful in shrinking some areas, new tumors are still growing, meaning Isabella will have to a start a new regimen of treatment.

“We almost lost her in December,” shared her mother. “But she’s eating better now. She misses church and she misses school. I’m pretty sure she feels secluded because everyone else gets to do this, that and the other. I’ve not sugar coated anything for her – she knows that if we don’t get this treatment it will take her. She knows that the medication helps her body, and this is how it helps. She knows that the chemo does this to her body, but it’s doing this to her cancer.”

“She’s tired. And I don’t blame her.”

Despite Isabella’s hardships, she has still managed to light up every time she comes to Karmanos.  

“When she comes here, she’s always glowing,” said Sara Hanson, Isabella’s mother. “She knows she’s going to come in and get stickers, candy or treats, and she’s so used to Dr. Miller and Dr. Kaila. She’s always smiling.”

Hanson says Isabella’s care team at the ROC make it a point to try and keep her visits at Karmanos as fun as they can, such as races to push the elevator button first, routine pictures at the time capsule located in the tunnel that connects Karmanos and Children’s Hospital, or even stopping at the giftshop after each visit for a new toy.

Dr. Kaila aims to show the world that cancer affects kids too, and those kids aren’t alone in their fight.

“Children think they are the only one,” said Dr. Kaila, referencing past times where her patients have asked her if they were the only child going through this. “I started to buy kids teddy bears along with huge lollipops. I knew when a child would come in, this would give them a smile, but I realized I wanted to do more.”

“The Build-A-Bear Foundation saw my passion for oncology and pediatric patients, and they saw what Dr. Miller was doing. Isabella was one of the driving reasons for me to get the bears for our pediatric patients.”

Eating some cake and excitedly talking about her first-time eating crab legs, Isabella enjoyed her party at the ROC.

“To her this is a party,” said her mom.

And it was. She not only enjoyed the goodies, but she was a celebrity. She enjoyed the hugs and visits from her care team at Karmanos as she hugged her new furry friend.