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Audrey Anderson lost her sister to cancer, then had her own scare. Saturday, she will lead the CHOA parade in Atlanta.
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Audrey Anderson, an 11-year-old Cumming native, has been chosen to serve as the grand marshal for the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta 2018 Children’s Christmas Parade this Saturday. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

Just two years after the staggering loss of their oldest daughter, Lily, to cancer, the Anderson family experienced what could reasonably be considered the worst thing to happen to one family — a rare form of cancerous tumor called a neuroblastoma was discovered in their younger daughter Audrey’s abdomen.

In the spring of 2016, an ultrasound found the same type of cancer, affecting the same area of 9-year-old Audrey Anderson’s body, that her sister fought for three and a half years.   

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta 2018 Christmas Parade

Where: Peachtree Street and 16th Street, Atlanta

When: Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, 10:30 a.m.

Featuring: Forsyth County native Audrey Anderson as Parade Grand Marshal and the South Forsyth High School Marching Band

More Info:  www.choa.org/parade

According to Jennifer Anderson, Lily and Audrey’s mom, the news that not one but both daughters had cancer shook everyone in their life to the bone, each person trying to grapple with the gravity of the situation and the awful coincidence.

“I remember looking at the radiologist that day and saying, ‘Does she have cancer? Is she going to die? Because we've already done this,’” Anderson said. “The doctors and the surgeons at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta were astounded and shocked and did not know how this could happen to a family twice.”

Within three days of the diagnosis, Audrey was in surgery having the chicken breast-sized tumor removed from around her adrenal gland and spine.

In the end, the mass was benign and her youngest daughter was safe, Jennifer Anderson said, but the situation has shaken their family. She said that since the surgery, they have Audrey scanned every three months just to be sure that nothing has come back.

“She's a miracle,” she said. “You know Lily's tumor took over her whole body and Audrey's tumor, her body was able to fight it off … what are the odds?” 

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Audrey Anderson, center, was picked for the Children's Healthcare of Atlanta 2018 Christmas Parade. She is shown here with her mother, Jennifer, and father, Joey. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

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In our December issue of 400 Life, the FCN sat down with Jennifer Anderson for an in-depth look at her family’s story, the legacy her daughter Lily and the charitable events that have grown in her name. You can find that story here.

Today, Audrey is a happy, vibrant – and most importantly, healthy – 11-year-old who loves to sing, act and is getting ready to star in the play “Annie” in December.

Jennifer Anderson said that their family also got an early holiday surprise from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, when Audrey was chosen to serve as the Grand Marshal for its 2018 Children’s Christmas parade this Saturday.

Jennifer Anderson said that because her daughter Lily loved Christmas so much, this time of year is especially hard and emotional for everyone in their family, but this event will be another way of commemorating the life that Lily lived.

"I'm excited for Audrey, especially. She deserves this after everything she's gone through; losing her sister for one, but then going through it herself," Anderson said. “I'm also so grateful that Children's (Healthcare of Atlanta) chose our family and remembers Lily like they do. They really do, and it's amazing.”

According to a press release by the hospital, Audrey will lead Santa and Mrs. Claus, Georgia marching bands – including one from South Forsyth High School – floats, dance groups and giant helium balloons through the route in Midtown Atlanta.

CHOA expects the annual parade to draw more than 300,000 spectators from the metro Atlanta area. It is set to kick off at 10:30 a.m.

Audrey said that she isn’t at all nervous, but is excited to lead the parade and wave at people.

"I am so excited that they chose me. I'll do a very good job," Audrey said. "I'll wave to people, and my Nana told me to give her a shout out, so I'll probably be like, 'What's up Nana!'”

Abby Wexler, development officer for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Foundation, said in a statement to the FCN that Audrey was picked for the parade not just for the power of her story but for her family’s continued commitment to supporting CHOA in Lily’s memory.

“Children’s is honored to have Audrey Anderson as the grand marshal of the 2018 Children’s Christmas Parade,” Wexler said. “Her journey is incredibly moving. We believe this family’s story of great strength and resilience will be an inspiration to all during this holiday season. The Anderson’s have been long-time supporters of Children’s and Audrey’s participation in the parade will foster childhood cancer awareness and be a beautiful tribute to Lily’s life.”

Proceeds from the parade Saturday will go to benefit the Center for Advanced Pediatrics, “an eight-floor outpatient facility opened in July that brings together multiple pediatric clinics, programs and specialists under one roof” at CHOA’s North Druid Hills campus, according to the release.  

The release states that the parade is free, open to the public and will start at Peachtree Street and 16th Street, ending at Peachtree Street and 5th Street.

More information can be found online at www.choa.org/parade. 

FCN EXTRA: Audrey Anderson lost her sister to cancer, then had her own scare. Saturday, she will lead the CHOA parade in Atlanta.

By: Bradley Wiseman