In this heartfelt episode of Takeoff Talk with Angel Flight East, hosts Maddie and Jess welcome Mya Hostutler, a remarkable cancer survivor, to share her inspiring journey. Mya recounts her childhood battle with spinal cancer, detailing surgeries, radiation therapy, and the resilient spirit that kept her going. She expresses deep gratitude for Angel Flight East, which made her treatment more accessible and allowed her to savor life as a normal kid. Mya's infectious positivity and strength shine through as she reflects on her cancer-free life post-treatment. The hosts, Maddie and Jess, add their signature humor to the mix in what promises to be an engaging and uplifting episode. Tune in!
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We are here with an old-school passenger, Mya.
2018 was a long time ago unless you count the whole worldwide pandemic that we had in between.
I don't count that as 3 years or however long. It was 2 years.
It felt like a week, but it was forever. To kick us off, Mya, do you want to tell our audience a little bit about your journey?
It's a lot so get ready. In second grade, I was diagnosed with spinal cancer or ependymoma cancer, but I didn't even know it was cancer. My parents told me it was a growth. That's what they called tumors. Maybe they said something was growing. I thought they were saying it was called a growth, what was in my back. I was like, “A growth is in my back. I don't know what that is, but we got to get it out.”
I had surgery on my spine because it hurt so bad. Having a tumor on my spine was painful, so we had surgery. I had to go to radiation therapy in Philadelphia for six weeks. The cancer wasn't gone because it still stays in your body after the radiation but it was dead. I was cancer-free until fourth grade when the tumor came back again instead on the side of my brain, so on the left side. I had to get surgery again and then went back to Philadelphia for another round of radiation for six weeks.
We thought it was all good and all clear, but then in fifth grade, it started showing some unstableness in MRIs. The tumor's unstableness was higher up on my spine. It was too small to get surgery. We decided to go to Pittsburgh to get immunotherapy shots that would train my immune system to fight the cancer. That's when I took Angel Flights to Pittsburgh. Before, it took five hours to get from Virginia to Pittsburgh so we started taking Angel Flights to get there.
The immunotherapy ended up not working so I had to go back to radiation therapy in Philadelphia for another six weeks. This time, it was a special kind of radiation. I don't know why, I'm still not sure what kind it was, but it was different from all the other times. It made my hair fall out and also set off this weird smell in my brain. I always add that in the story. It was so strange. I don't think the oncologist understood because they tried to put scents on the mask I had to wear, but it wouldn't block it because the scent was in my brain. I could always smell it no matter what. It was strange.
I did that and then I was cancer-free for a while. It looked good. I didn't have any hair. I was rocking the head wraps. I got a hat wig one time. At the beginning of sixth grade, there was more unstableness as you know cancer can be. I had to take chemotherapy pills. I took those for two years. After the 2-year mark of taking chemo pills, you have to analyze and see where you are to see if you need another 2 years to take more or if you're good or you're done. The anticipation was crazy, but on July 30th, 2019, they found out that I was completely cancer-free. After a couple of months, my hair started growing back. Ever since July 30th, 2019, I've been completely cancer-free.
That's amazing. I feel like you've lived 1,000 lifetimes. The fact that you can talk about it so beautifully and the fact that you're cancer-free and you went through all that as a child when you're supposed to be enjoying life and playing with kids is incredible.
Did you have a not-birthday birthday party on July 30th, 2019? I feel like I would be like, “We're having a barbecue. Everybody's tired.”
We went to dinner, I'm pretty sure. I can't remember exactly because I remember being so overjoyed and it was years ago.
Even the years following every July.
Every year, we go to dinner and stuff. I feel like a lot of people have worse stories when it comes to cancer. I know mine is a very long story because it's been a lot of my life, but it wasn't as bad because going to Philadelphia was so much fun. My dad grew up around Philadelphia. He took me to all the cheesesteak places. We went to all the museums and saw the Liberty Bell. Sometimes, my friends would come up to visit.
I remember fifth grade was the best year. I love my grandparents. We stayed with them in 2nd and 4th grade, but then in 5th grade, we got to go to different Airbnbs throughout Philadelphia and go to different hotels. That was a lot of fun. It hasn't been that bad. It's been a lot of fun. I had a child life specialist who loved me and I loved her in Philadelphia. Her name is Melanie. She was so cool.
The only part that got bad was chemo pills because certain types of pills made me depressed. That was during middle school. That's the awkward phase and everything. On top of all the hormones and whatever, the chemo pills made me super depressed. That was a hard time. After that, it was good. Before that, it was a lot of fun. I wouldn't want to have cancer again, but I wouldn't trade the experience that I had.
That's good to know.
Do you remember what your favorite cheesesteak place was? Maddy and I have very strong opinions about it.
Philip’s was my favorite.
I don't know that one. Do you?
I'm going to Google it really quick.
We have to write this down.
It was on the side of the road. A lot of the big ones, I didn't prefer as much when I was younger. It was some random place called Philip’s. It was on the side of the road. It was a little place like that.
We need to road trip there.
That was my favorite. I don't know if it would be my favorite now but it was then. I haven't been to Philadelphia in a bit since, but Philip’s was my top then.
We’re going to go and you're going to get a random text from us one day like, “Not it.”
You'd be surprised. I did have a kid’s palette though so I'm not entirely sure.
I still do so I'll love it then.
Where did you go for treatment in Philly? Did you go to the CHOP? Did you go to Shriners? Am I missing somebody?
I went to CHOP.
Are you still connected to that lady that you mentioned? You said her name is Melanie.
I have her number. I haven't talked to her in a while. Before COVID, whenever we would go back for a checkup with that one doctor who was there, we would go one day a year. I would see her, but then I started not seeing her because she became the head of the whole child life specialist thing. She started not working on the days that I would go in. I haven't seen her in a while, but I have her number unless she changes it.
What is your new healthy teenage life like? Are you in sports? Do you do drama? What do you do?
Do you know how to use TikTok so you can teach us?
I do know how to use TikTok. I feel like my generation isn't as obsessed with TikTok as maybe my brothers who are three years younger than me. I don't know. That's just me and my surroundings. I'm also surrounded by a bunch of theater kids because I go to Colgan High School, which is a school for the arts. You can be zoned there but you can also try out and be in the theater program, the choir program, the music tech program, the arts program, creative writing, band, orchestra, or anything like that. I tried it out. Since I'm not zoned for Colgan, I auditioned for the theater program. I'm in that and have been since ninth grade. I do a lot of theater. The Little Mermaid auditions were supposed to happen but school got canceled.
When you audition, are you auditioning for a certain role?
No. You're auditioning to be in. You can alter your song or monologue. You can choose one that would be like the character you want, but you're not going in there being like, “I’m Mya. I'm auditioning for the role of Ariel, Ursula, Flounder, or whatever.” You audition to be in it.
I would be Sebastian. Is that the crab?
Yeah. That's the crab.
What's the seagull's name?
I would be Scuttle.
Can you tap dance? Scuttle has a tap dancing number. Positivity is the top dancing number. I don't think I'd be a dancer in that part because I feel like acting and singing are my strong ones, but mostly acting. I take dance classes, but they're not as strong at all. I'll be okay, but I don't know about tap dancing on the fly or something.
What do you have your fingers crossed for?
I want to be Ursula.
She's so cool.
I want to be Ursula so bad. Colgan is very competitive with acting. I feel like if any of us had gone to any other school that's not for arts and stuff, we would get the leads all the time. It’s difficult at Colgan because everybody is so talented and there are tons of people in the theater program. I'm not banking on getting Ursula, but I got a voice teacher and she has helped me so much with my song. I'm excited to audition. I was like, “I want it to be code red, but also I'm excited to audition because I know it's going to be so good.” I know even if I don't get Ursula, I'm going to be happy and proud of my audition because of how hard I worked and how much she helped me.
That’s awesome. You have to keep us updated.
If you get Ursula out, we're coming to see it.
If we don't get Ursula, we'll still manage to find a way.
Colgan's performances are always good.
That's awesome. I love that. Do you remember any of your Angel Flights? Was there a memorable one that you would say stood out to you?
All of them were memorable. There was this app. I wasn't allowed to have Musical.ly or whatever, which was before TikTok. I got this app called DubSmash. I would film the flights.
Is that karaoke or something?
It's like TikTok where you lip-sync to something or have music in the background of your videos. It was not as popular. It was DubSmash. I would film the flights. I would film the pilot and he would wave. I always did that to make sure I remembered all of them. One of the most memorable fights was when he let me drive. It was probably on autopilot or something, but he let me put my hands on the steering wheel and pretend to fly. It was fun. Another one was when I went with my mom. It was a bigger plane than we had ever gone on. There were two pilots in the front seats. It was very long. We sat in the back, so we had room to stretch our legs and stuff. It was pretty cool. Those were the two most memorable ones.
I'm looking at the pilots that you flew with. Your first flight was back in 2017. All of the pilots that I'm looking at, I'm like, “That's a big plane.” You were in style back in those days.
I told my friends about it and they thought it was so cool. It was cool and I loved bragging to my friends about it. I'm like, “I flew a plane to Pittsburgh. No biggie.”
You didn’t have to go through security or anything.
It was so cool because it was only an hour and a half compared to the five hours it usually took. It was so much fun. I probably have 1,000 pictures of the landscapes that I took with my little iPad back then.
I love that. I'm trying to picture what we would have to take with us, Jess, when we were that age.
The disposable cameras you bought at CVS. You then develop the film and keep it in a photo album. What did we do with that?
Those would get sticky to each other later.
We could upload them to our MySpace profile and hope our top eight people saw it.
I'm pretty sure I did have a hot pink digital camera though where you would turn it on and the lens would come out. Do you know what I'm talking about?
You would take them everywhere with you. Those were the days. When did those pictures end up online ever?
You guys are downplaying my iPad kid life.
The Boomers are going to eat this up.
We had iPod Touches. Do you know what an iPod Touch is?
Yes. I had an iPod Touch.
Good. We're still young and hip-ish.
People that say young and hip aren't young and hip. I didn't have an iPod Touch, but my friends did. I was jealous. One of my friends told me that he would give me his old one and he never did. The rudest.
You didn’t have a DS though, didn't you?
Mom said Santa doesn't give electronics so I had to watch all my friends play their DS.
That's a good mom. I'm not going to lie.
She blamed it on my dad later. When I had to go to treatment for the first time, my aunt got me a Kindle Fire. That was my thing. I had a Kindle Fire that I played on until the family got an iPad in fourth grade. I took the iPad with me to radiation and stuff like that.
There you go. That's awesome. Is there anything that's beyond memorable about being a kid who gets to go on an Angel Flight? Were you scared? Were you excited? Were you like, “I'm going where for what?” What was that like?
It was exciting. I loved going to Pittsburgh because Pittsburgh is awesome. We stayed at a nice hotel. We'd always stay at Marriott. I would always be excited to go except the immunotherapy shots always hurt a lot. I have bruises on my legs that are still there. It’s like, “Really?” because they didn't work. I have bruises on my legs for nothing. They're battle scars, so it works. I was always excited to go. It was nice because driving in the car was always so tedious. I would miss more school or I would have less time to be with friends or anything like that. It was a lot easier to take the Angel Flights. It’s always exciting to fly in a plane.
It’s a lot easier to take the Angel Flights. And of course, it's always exciting to fly in a plane.
A lot of times, when we explain Angel Flight to somebody, they hear us say small airplane and they're like, “It's not that small.” They get there and they're like, “It's four seats. It’s much smaller than I thought it would be,” but the people always love it. They jump right in.
Sitting in the front was the best. It was so cool. I always made my dad sit in the back while I sat in the front or my mom sit in the back while I sat in the front.
That's the way to do it. If I’m upfront, I'm always like, “What does that button do? What does that one do?”
I would sit back and fall asleep.
We had those headphones because it's loud. You have it to communicate with each other, the microphones. I never wanted to bother the pilot. I knew I probably wouldn't, but I was always like, “He's doing his thing.”
I never knew when you're supposed to talk as you're getting closer to the airport. I’m like, “I don't want to distract you from what you're doing.”
That's exactly how I felt. I would only do it and be like, “Say cheese,” with my iPad to do the thing. That was it. That was all I would say unless I was talking to one of my parents.
I'm the worst because I used to sit there the whole time and be like, “What's your life like?”
Maddy comes back with all the gossip about the pilots. I'm like, “How did you figure this out?
I got bored.
Mya, what is one final thought you would want to leave our audience with?
I'm so grateful that organizations like this make it possible for people like me to get treatment and also enjoy their life as normal kids. I know it would be a lot more expensive with all the gas money and stuff like that for my parents to take me five hours to Pittsburgh along with all the treatment costs. We're seated well in the classes. We’re middle class. I feel like for other people, it would be a lot worse, so I’m really happy that we have the opportunity to have these Angel Flights.
It's nice to do that but still enjoy life as a normal kid because having cancer or other illnesses doesn't make us any less normal than anybody else. It makes us stronger. We're ready to face the world. It gives us a cool battle story. I tell people this and they're like, “I'm so sorry.” I'm like, “Don't be sorry.” They're like, “You don't have to tell me.” I'm like, “Don't be sorry. It's badass.” I love telling people these things.
Having cancer or other illnesses doesn't make us any less normal than anybody else. It just makes us stronger and ready to face the world. And it gives us a cool battle story.
You had to go on a private plate.
You're an inspiration. The fact that you said it wasn't that bad, I'm like, “I can never have a bad day again.”
I was thinking the same thing. I'm like, “I'm a big weenie.”
I compare it to other people's where they have the port chemo. They're sick all the time. I hated losing my hair and stuff. The whole middle school thing was bad. I was in a good community because I don't think I ever got bullied. I did sometimes, but it wasn't that much. If you see TV shows or whatever where the cancer patients get bullied, I didn't get it that much even though I was involved. People supported me. I had a good support group throughout the entire time, and I still do. It made it a lot easier.
Thank you so much for hanging out with us for a little bit. You better let us know when the show is and what role you are in.
We’ll find someone to fly us there. We'll find them. We'll call them up.
That’s awesome. Thank you.
Thanks, Mya. Talk to you soon.
Thank you so much, Mya.
This was awesome. Thank you. Bye.
I want to be as happy as she is one day.
I never complain about anything unless we run out of Kit-Kats in the office because that helps get me through the day.
I refilled it for you. You're welcome. I don't understand how she can be, “This was my life. This is my story. Here I am now and this is it. I am fine with it.” I am like, “On Tuesday, I had a nail in my tire and now I cannot go on.”
I know. Anytime we're having a bad day, we should replay this. She was like, “Cancer made me a badass.” I was like, “It did.” I was like, “What makes us a badass? Nothing. We’re just being ourselves.”
She's so cool. I want to be that cool.
When she said we can't say young and hip anymore, I was like, “I dated us for about 25 years.” You're not even in your 30s yet.
I'm still too close for comfort to my 30s.
You also act like you're about 55 so it's okay.
I know. It's part of my charm. We're old-schools.
On that note, we hope you tune in next time. Thank you for tuning in.