CRESTVIEW, Fla. (WKRG) — One Okaloosa County family has had a tough year. On Memorial Day Weekend in 2021, husband and father of three Travis Huisken fell ill.
After a doctor’s visit Travis was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, also known as kidney cancer. Immediately, the family assumed the worse.
“We dealt with mine and mine was very, very difficult,” said Travis. “We started making plans for what their lives would be like without me in it.”
The family of five went through many options before doctors successfully removed Travis’ infected Kidney on July 14.
“The tumor was aggressive and it had ravaged that kidney and we had discussions about trying to save the kidney and determined that it was probably better to just remove the whole thing,” said Travis. “I got off easy, they were able to just remove the entire kidney which took the entire tumor with it and they’ve been running scans since to make sure that it has not come back and has not spread to anyplace else and so far so good.”
Just when things started to feel normal again and with Travis recovering from the operation, three-year-old Phinley took a turn for the worse.
“We took her to her pediatrician and after about 30 days of appointments and everyone coming back saying ‘you know, we think it’s just a virus. Just put her on some ibuprofen,'” said Jessie. “Her doctor found a heart murmur that was new and said you need to go straight to Pensacola.”
Travis and his wife Jessie rushed their youngest child to the ER in Pensacola, where doctors found her white blood cell count at 100,000- a safe range is closer to 6,000.
“The ER doctor came in and said, ‘I ran it 3 times to make sure it was correct,'” said Jessie.
Doctors quickly diagnosed Phinley with AML, leukemia that infects 500 to 700 people every year.
Crews flew Phinley to UF Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, where she was given a 50/50 chance to survive. Doctors screwed in Phinleys first intubation tube on her 4th birthday, Oct. 20, 2021.
“It has a higher level of relapse, there’s lower survivability,” said Jessie.
Phinley survived five rounds of chemo over a seven-month time frame. Doctors said she immediately responded to the treatment and was getting better fast.
“She’s done very well. She went from over 90% cancer cells when at her first diagnosis to 0% after her first round of chemo. Which is incredible,” said Jessie. “The doctors, when they called to give us the news of her first biopsy, they did not expect that type of response to treatment so fast. So she has been at 0% ever since then and she finished her last round of chemo.”
Phinley will not need a bone marrow transplant due to her low numbers and positive response to treatment. During the last seven months, her eldest brother Harper tested as a perfect match just in case.
Jessie stayed by Phinleys side for the entire seven months. Travis and the grandparents took turns relieving Jessie until good news finally came. Phinley could go home.
Phinley’s two big brothers Harper and Bennett stayed in Okaloosa County while she battled the disease. Being raised by grandparents at the time, Jessie said the transition back to a whole family dynamic has not been easy.
“The boys got used to living with grandparents who, you know everyone has different rules and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Jessie. “But when you get back together as a family and now all of a sudden you have to learn how to live together again and everyone is different than they were seven months ago.”
The family is now on a trial drug program for Phinley, requiring frequent checkups to monitor the progress. She still has tubes in place to help with the medication and has an increased survival rate of 70/30 to see her 9th birthday.
While Jessie is taking the fight with her baby girl day by day, Travis said he is looking long-term.
“We’re working on recovering and repairing and dealing with things day by day, but I like to think about a post-9-year-old Finley,” said Travis. “I like to think about a 15-year-old Finley. I like to think about a 20-year-old Finley. I can see it. I’m convinced that this isn’t going to have a tragic ending and I’m excited to someday walk her down the aisle. “
Phinley lost her hair during the treatment but never lost her spunk. The now four-year-old is back to playing tag and chasing her big brothers around.
“She’s become a different person,” said Travis. “She’s stronger than she was and she was strong. I think her strength really served her well through this, but she’s not who went into the hospital. Considering the spots on her brain and whatnot, I’m not saying that she’s got a different personality or that she there’s just a lot more there. She’s got more character development.”
The family of five is only asking for the power of prayer, but the community came together to help. Employees with Huisken’s home church Crosspoint North in Crestview wear Team Phinley shirts every Wednesday to support the fight.
Law enforcement and neighbors surprised Phinley with a welcome home parade the week before Memorial Day.
A go fund me set up for medical expenses can be found here.