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Dorothy's fight 

click to enlarge TREATMENT:  Dorothy travels to Santa Barbara every Thursday for treatment. - PHOTO BY SHANNON MCDONALD
  • TREATMENT: Dorothy travels to Santa Barbara every Thursday for treatment.

Her bright blue eyes and expressive features were intent on a video playing on her mother’s iPhone; crayons were scattered on the table in front of her. She looked every bit the normal 2 1/2-year-old child, except for a distinction you couldn’t help but notice.

Dorothy’s head is shaved, with just a few wispy strands of delicate blond hair left a little longer around the edges.

The story of Dorothy Mishalanie’s hair loss began about a month ago, when a friend who was babysitting her noticed some blood in her urine. From there Dorothy was taken to the emergency room, and doctors began taking tests. The test for an infection came back negative. Dorothy then had an ultrasound that was only supposed to take 15 minutes. It went on far longer. It was then that Shannon McDonald, Dorothy’s mother, felt something was really wrong.

A specialist told her the ultrasound had found a 9 cm mass in Dorothy’s left kidney. From there, Dorothy and her mom were rushed to Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara in an ambulance for treatment. The hospital stay lasted two weeks, during which doctors performed a variety of tests to determine what type of cancer Dorothy had.

The first respite came two days after the ambulance ride, when doctors said Dorothy had a Wilms’ tumor, which had the highest cure rate of the four types of cancer doctors initially thought Dorothy may have had. With the treatment plan Dorothy is using, most children who are diagnosed with a Wilms’ tumor beat it, and it doesn’t return.

Despite the positive development, Dorothy and her family’s ordeal is far from finished. Dorothy and her mother travel to Santa Barbara every Thursday for treatment. She will soon begin a round of stronger chemotherapy, which will further diminish her already weakened immune system, meaning time spent playing with other children, a favorite pastime, will decrease.

McDonald said she had little time to transition from her initial feelings of shock and terror to a stage of acceptance. She said she has to be Dorothy’s rock as she goes through treatment. The most difficult thing for Shannon is seeing her daughter scared, worried, or confused.

“I wish I could do it for her,” she said.

She did manage to come up with a novel way to turn her daughter’s confusion about her new haircut into excitement. At the suggestion of a friend, she invented the “Hair Fairy,” who takes Dorothy’s hair and leaves little gifts under her pillow.

The illness has taken a financial toll on the family. The ambulance ride to Santa Barbara alone cost $30,000, and wasn’t covered by insurance. McDonald, who was working toward becoming a nurse, had to quit her job in order to take care of Dorothy. Dorothy’s father, Mark Mishalanie, frequently works 12 hours a day at his recently opened restaurant, Black Stallion in Paso Robles, in order to support them.

To help ease the financial burden, an online fundraiser has been established to enable people to donate to Dorothy’s treatment and recovery. So far the fundraiser has collected about $13,000.

McDonald sees the fundraiser a positive thing that has come out of the experience.

“That’s the one thing I can say, is how loved we feel, and supported,” she said.

Those who wish to donate can do so online at McDonald said if anyone would like to donate toys or other items for Dorothy, they should use Facebook or the Gofundme page to get in contact with her.

The treatment has put a damper on Dorothy’s usually buoyant personality, but McDonald said Dorothy has been handling the situation well and enjoys seeing her doctors and nurses. Dorothy was looking forward to starting preschool. Now McDonald hopes she’ll be able to start late next semester.

Fast fact

The San Luis Obispo County Democratic Party is hosting a Labor Day barbecue on Monday, Sept. 1, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Strother Park in Arroyo Grande. Guests will include Congresswoman Lois Capps, California State Senator Bill Monning, and local politicians including Supervisor Caren Ray. Tickets cost $25 for adults, $10 for children, and are available at party headquarters at 3592 Broad St., Suite 100. For additional information, visit


Kyle McCarty wrote this week’s Strokes & Plugs. Send nonprofit and business news to

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