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Cancer survivor wants to be a veterinarian

Ronald McDonald Camp gives her a chance to ride horses.

June 17, 2005|Merrill Balassone | Times Staff Writer

Less than two months remain before the Ventura County Fair, and Anna Haller is getting her prize-winning lamb, Mutton, ready for competition. Mutton weighs a meager 100 pounds and must gain an additional 40 for a chance at best in show. Anna is certain her shed full of Ultimate Show Feed will do the trick.

Anna, who dreams of becoming a veterinarian one day, is giving a tour of her family's ranch in Oxnard, which includes dogs, chickens, lambs, ponies and an 18-year-old cat that is still going strong. Her family has a penchant for morbid animal names, which include Dinner and Chops.

"I like not being cooped up and having a lot of things to do," Anna said about life on the ranch.

When she was 2, Anna was diagnosed with leukemia and underwent chemotherapy for more than two years.

Now 12, Anna was in remission by the time she learned of Ronald McDonald Camp for Good Times, but she will go for the fifth time this summer with her older sister, Heather. At the weeklong camp for children with cancer, siblings often attend because they are affected by the trauma that the illness brings to the family.

As a child, Heather, 15, wondered why Anna got all the attention and was allowed to be at the hospital rather than at school.

At camp, Anna enjoys climbing the "courage course" and riding her horse, Strawberry. She has participated in the camp's Olympics, including flying-disc and boomerang throws and a water balloon toss.

Her father laid out photos on his dining table of his girls on their camp adventures.

One shows the scruffy members of a motorcycle club who drove through camp one year, allowing campers to dress them up in costumes. One unlucky biker posed for the camera in a church-lady hat complete with ribbons and flowers, his tattooed arms protruding from the puffy sleeves of a bubblegum pink party dress.

While Anna stayed at the hospital for months at a time, her father, Richard, struggled to keep up with his hay selling business. He often had to strap his children into car seats in the rig of his truck as he made his runs to Burbank and Santa Barbara. Anna's mom left the family six years ago after the pressure became too much, leaving him to take care of Anna and her two sisters.

Since the chemotherapy, Anna's leukemia has been in remission, and her doctor's visits are down to once a year.

"They never consider Anna cured, only a survivor," Richard said. "They always have such a good time at camp, and it gives me a little break too."

About 12,000 children will go to camp this summer, thanks to $2.1 million raised last year.

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