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Lily’s Long Weekend

A long weekend usually involves rest and celebration. But last Labor Day was the longest of long weekends for Lily Suddeth and her family. Lily had just started preschool weeks before, and her teachers noticed that she was quiet and didn’t like to be put down – especially after nap time. Her parents thought she simply might be adjusting to her new routine and surroundings. But when she started waking up during the night, they decided to take her to the doctor.

“At first, our pediatrician suggested she might be teething,” recalled Lily’s mother, Allison. “But her coloring was off and a blood draw showed she was severely anemic. So they sent us to the hospital for further testing.”

Because of her doctor’s sense of urgency, Lily’s parents suspected she might have COVID. But as the long weekend progressed and more tests were ordered, it became apparent that they were dealing with something else entirely. On Tuesday, Lily was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and began her treatment.

“The situation was difficult because only one parent was able to be with the child in the hospital,” said Allison. “Since it was the height of the pandemic, we certainly understood the need for such rules. But my husband and I process information very differently, and it would have been helpful if both of us could have been there to support each other and ask questions.”

While they certainly had questions, this was not the first time the Suddeth family had dealt with cancer. Allison’s older brother, Daniel, was diagnosed with the same form of leukemia when he was two years old. She also has a cousin whose son recently finished his leukemia treatment and is a healthy seven-year-old. Both her mother and her cousin became invaluable resources for her in the early phase of treatment.

“I wasn’t born when Daniel was diagnosed, so I didn’t know all that went into his fight with cancer,” Allison said. “The treatment for ALL has changed since then. So it was great to have a cousin who had just been through it. Knowing both of them had survived gave us a great sense of hope and assurance that we could trust in God’s plan for Lily’s life.”

Lily reached remission after the first month of treatment, and her parents decided to enroll her in a clinical trial of a drug called Blinatumomab. This drug is usually given to patients if their cancer comes back after treatment. Studies have shown that receiving it during treatment can increase a patient’s initial survivability and prevent relapse. It proved difficult to administer to a patient so young, however.

“The medicine is typically held in a backpack and given 24 hours a day for 28 days,” Allison shared. “But Lily was too small for the backpack so she had to have a pack with a long cord. She got used to it in no time and actually came to like having mommy or daddy following her around all the time.”

Lily is doing great now. She spends most of her time trying to keep up with her older brother and sister and loves to play outside, ride her scooter, and swing. She should reach the less intensive stage of treatment before the fall so when Labor Day rolls around this year, Lily and her family can relax and enjoy the long weekend together.


Catherine’s Special Initiation

Catherine Williams could light up a room with her infectious smile, boundless energy, and natural leadership ability. She was an exceptional student, played varsity volleyball, and was a member of the Delta Upsilon Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma at University of Georgia – even though she passed away shortly after graduating from high school.

During her junior year at North Atlanta High School, Catherine began to suffer knee pain. Since she was a volleyball player, her parents thought it was a sports-related issue. As the pain increased, Catherine tried physical therapy which didn’t help. She soon had an MRI that revealed a tumor on her left knee.

“Looking back, the tumor had been there a while,” Catherine’s mother, Anne, recalled. “By the time we found out she had osteosarcoma, the cancer was metastatic and had moved to her lungs.”

Catherine Williams

This was not Anne’s first brush with cancer. When she was pregnant with Catherine, her sister passed away after a battle with breast cancer. In fact, Catherine was named after the aunt she never met.

After chemotherapy, Catherine had surgery to remove the tumor and reconstruct her knee. The reconstruction never worked, however, and doctors were later forced to amputate her leg. That surgery was followed by more chemotherapy and radiation, which also proved to be ineffective. In March of 2020, Catherine was sent home without treatment options as the pandemic started to spread across the country.

“COVID was somewhat of an equalizer for Catherine,” Anne said. “All of her friends were out having fun and she couldn’t. But when quarantines hit, everyone had to stay at home.”

While she was at home, a hospice nurse discovered that Catherine hoped to join a sorority when she got to UGA that fall. Since both Anne and her mother had been Kappas in college, the nurse reached out to the University of Georgia chapter and got a welcome response.

“We have some members of our sorority who know Catherine’s family and had been following her treatment,” said Lilia Sullivan, the Philanthropy Chairman of Georgia’s Kappa chapter. “When we got the call, we contacted Kappa headquarters immediately and got their support. This unfortunate situation became a great way for the community to come together for Catherine.”

Lilia and Saville Sullivan

Lilia knows about the need for support for children with cancer. When she was sixteen, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Shockingly, three weeks later, her older sister, Saville, was diagnosed with a different type of brain tumor! They went through chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery together. Both sisters survived and are thriving today.

“My parents say that period in our lives was like an out-of-body experience,” Lilia recalled. “Everything we were going through was completely draining emotionally, physically, and mentally. I’m not sure how we would have done it without our faith and our family, friends, and neighbors in Albany.”

When the call went out about Catherine, local Kappas came to the William’s house, and members from all over the country attended on a Zoom connection as Catherine was initiated.

“It was a sweet and special afternoon,” said Anne. “It was also the last time Catherine was able to come downstairs.”

Catherine “Cappie” Williams died peacefully at home on June 2, 2020, after a courageous 13-month battle with osteosarcoma. She was 18 years old.

Although she was initiated into the sorority, she was unable to participate in the academic and social life that the rest of the Kappas enjoy. As Philanthropy Chairman, Lilia is determined to help build a legacy for Catherine in Athens – even though she never attended a class. To do this, the Kappa chapter is planning a run in her memory. The event is called “5k for Kappie” and will start at the Kappa house and finish at one of their favorite restaurants, Saucehouse Barbecue. The 5k will be held on Saturday, March 19, and proceeds will benefit CURE Childhood Cancer. Together, the University of Georgia chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma is proving that sisterhood knows no bounds.

If you would like to register for the 5K for Kappy, please click here.

Madison Has a Purpose

Her voice is soulful, powerful, and angelic. When you hear Madison sing, you would never believe a voice like that could come out of a petite 21-year-old. You would also be surprised to know that five years ago, doctors found a tumor the size of a golf ball on her brain.

Her cancer fight started with a headache that came and went for three weeks. At the time, Madison was balancing life as a high school cheerleader and member of the golf team while maintaining a very high grade point average. She and her mother, Jennifer, were walking into a store when Madison stumbled and complained of a horrible headache.

“I asked if her headache was back,” Jennifer said. “She told me it had never completely gone away. I didn’t think much of it until she got sick the next morning.”

As a doctor of physical therapy, Jennifer knows more about the body than the average parent. The symptoms together had her worried, so she took Madison to the emergency room.

“I didn’t tell her because I didn’t want her to panic, but I felt like a brain tumor was a possibility and wanted to have them rule it out,” Jennifer recalled. “As we drove, her right arm started to go numb, and when we got there, her right leg became unusable.”

The emergency room staff rushed her to get a CT scan, and the doctor brought the news almost immediately. Madison had a tumor called anaplastic ependymoma on the left side of her brain. She was immediately flown by helicopter from Braselton to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Because this type of tumor grows rapidly, Madison had surgery to remove it three days later.

An analysis of the tumor found it to be grade 3, meaning it is malignant and carries a 30% chance of recurrence. After healing from surgery, Madison had proton radiation for eight weeks. She will have to have regular MRIs of her brain and spinal cord for the rest of her life, but fortunately, her scans have been clear for five years.

“Madison has both physical and emotional scars,” Jennifer said. “Her treatment left her with PTSD, trauma, anxiety, and hallucinations caused by medication. Because of this, she wasn’t able to sleep alone until she got an emotional support dog named Toby. But our family believes we go through experiences such as this for a purpose, and Madison is finding hers.”

In fact, Madison founded a nonprofit called Purpose. Her goal is to comfort children in treatment by sending them a nightlight, a note of encouragement, and a stuffed dog that looks like her labradoodle. She is also finding purpose in her budding music career.

Madison has written 13 songs, including one entitled Superman, which is about being diagnosed with a brain tumor. While she sometimes finds this song disturbing to play because it brings back the trauma of her experience, she does want to tell her story to raise awareness and funds to help kids going through treatment.

“I won’t say God gave me cancer for a reason,” Madison said. “But I will say God brought me through cancer being mostly whole in a way that many children aren’t. I have a purpose.”

Madison is uniquely talented, and the world is starting to take notice. You can listen to her sing on Instagram. Big things are ahead for this amazing young lady.

Raegan’s Playground

Raegan lived life on her own terms. She was sweet and spunky and loved unicorns. Her parents never knew how much of a fighter she was until she had to be.

She was thriving in kindergarten when she began suffering from minor illnesses that wouldn’t go away. After shuffling back and forth to appointments and different kinds of testing, Raegan was finally diagnosed with a pediatric brain tumor called DIPG.

“To say your life can change in the blink of an eye, four letters, DIPG, completely devastated our family,” recalled Raegan’s father, Marc. “We had never heard of this disease, and what we learned broke our hearts.”

Marc and his wife, Andrea, would soon learn that DIPG is a rare brain cancer for which there is no known cure. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Raegan had the worst possible genetic mutation and was given a prognosis of 6-9 months. Both Marc and Andrea work in the medical field and began scouring the internet for information and potential clinical trials.

“We shut down everything,” said Marc. “Our entire focus became about saving Raegan’s life.”

They found three clinical trials at St. Jude’s in Memphis, but by the time they arrived, two of them had closed and the third had little information available. So they packed up and came to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where there were open trials that looked promising. There they met CURE.

“When we first got admitted to the Aflac Cancer Center, we were given one of the CURE tote bags,” said Andrea. “We were going through so much right then that I was very touched to feel like someone was thinking of us.”

At the same time they were facing this monumental battle, friends and fire departments around the country began to “Rally for Raegan” by posting pictures of support and contributing to a fund meant to help with Raegan’s medical expenses.

The first clinical trial worked well for seven months. But in January 2020, Raegan began to show symptoms of progression. When they came back to Atlanta for radiation, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the family was forced to stay in a hotel for twelve weeks. During this time, Raegan started a new clinical trial funded by CURE. She continued this treatment for five months until her tumor again showed progression.

“This all showed us how much of a fighter Raegan was,” said Marc. “She had already lived way beyond her diagnosis, and her doctor said, ‘I can tell you what we expect, but this is Raegan we’re talking about.’”

Sweet Raegan passed away at home during a tropical storm on November 8, 2020. She outlived her original diagnosis by nearly a year. And, oh how she lived.

“Raegan never stopped smiling and laughing,” said Marc. “She turned everything into her playground. The trials we went through weren’t failures because they bought us time to be with her, and every moment was precious.”

Marc and Andrea returned to Atlanta recently to pay it forward for the support they received during Raegan’s treatment.

They wanted to pay it forward to the organizations that cared for them during Raegan’s treatment. So they split the remaining funds between CURE, the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the Winship Cancer Institute where she received radiation. Despite losing Raegan, they are dedicated to advancing research that will lead to cures for children with cancer.

After their experience, Andrea shared advice for parents of newly diagnosed children.

“When your child is diagnosed, it knocks the air out of you,” she said. “Once you catch your breath, start doing your own research. There may be other options out there and new treatments on the horizon. I have no regrets. The trials gave us 18 good months, much of which we wouldn’t have had. Keep fighting every day.”

Keeping up with Zoe

Last year, Courtney Thomas sat snuggling her two-year-old daughter, Zoe, in her lap. As she rubbed Zoe’s neck, she felt an odd swelling. As a pediatric nurse, she knew something was wrong.

“My radar was already up because she was fatigued and had been fighting an ear infection,” Courtney said. “A few days later, my husband noticed tiny bruises on her collar bone. We took her to her pediatrician the next day.”

Bloodwork confirmed what Courtney had begun to fear. Zoe had leukemia. Ironically, Zoe became a patient in the very hospital where Courtney works as a nurse. Her initial hospital stay lasted 19 days. While they were inpatient, the COVID-19 pandemic began to rage.

“Her whole treatment has been during the pandemic, and it adds a layer of worry,” said Courtney. “During one of her hospital stays, I was seven months pregnant. At the time, only one parent could stay with her. It’s tough to be that pregnant and alone while trying to entertain and care for a sick toddler. Being away from home so much has been difficult for her and her older brother, Arlen.”

Courtney has since delivered a healthy little boy, and Zoe is thrilled to be a big sister. Zoe is now in the maintenance portion of her treatment. She takes oral chemo pills nightly and goes in once a month for a chemo infusion. But Zoe’s treatments often make her immunocompromised, and with COVID still around, life has yet to return to normal.

“We are incredibly thankful for friends delivering meals and helping us around the house,” said Courtney. “But the isolation has been hard. We miss being able to go to church and visit with friends, and sometimes we feel isolated or even forgotten.”

While the pandemic has caused Courtney and her husband, T.J., to feel alone at times, they met a new friend in the hospital who has made a big difference. Courtney said:

“CURE has been here for us from the very beginning. As soon as we were diagnosed, we were given a CURE tote which included basic toiletries, which was appreciated since we weren’t admitted until after 8 pm. We also realized very quickly what an enormous blessing the Open Arms meals are. Having food served to us took away a great deal of stress because it was one less thing to worry about.”

“CURE has also been a huge support for us out of the hospital as well. The Quiet Heroes event came right after we had gotten back home from the hospital and was such an uplifting and encouraging experience for us both. I began to realize that we are not alone – we are now a part of a huge tribe of people, parents who love their children fiercely and will all fight for these kids and support one another together.”

Lastly, we have been so thankful for the counseling services CURE offers. CURE found a counseling group that has experience helping families going through childhood cancer and covered the cost of our counseling sessions. We have been able to take advantage of these services to be sure we are processing and handling the stress and change well and openly communicating about how we are feeling and know that how we are feeling is okay!”

All of this support has meant so much to them that, even though Zoe is still in treatment, the Thomas family has sponsored Open Arms meals for families of hospitalized kids. And as for Zoe, she is feeling much better and is back to singing, dancing, and trying to keep up with Arlen. It’s been a year since her diagnosis, and her treatment will continue until June 2022. While that seems like a long time, the entire family has learned that mixed in with the tough days will be some really good days.

Getting Khairi Back on the Field

Khairi loves baseball. He doesn’t even mind the bumps and bruises that result from playing hard. But when he was four years old, something odd happened. He got hit in the eye with a ball, and his mother, Michella, expected swelling immediately. But it didn’t come. In fact, it was days before the shiner appeared, and it lasted for nearly a month.

Unbeknownst to Michella, the reason Khairi’s eye didn’t swell was because his platelet count was dangerously low. Soon after that incident, he began to lose weight and got several unexplained fevers. The second time Michella had to leave work to get him from school, she took him to the hospital for evaluation.

“The nurse took a blood sample,” Michella recalled. “Then she came back and took another. After a few hours and two more samples, I knew something was wrong.”

Michella’s family has a history of lupus, so she imagined this might be the cause. But when a team of six doctors, including an oncologist, came into the room, her world was shattered.

“They told me Khairi had leukemia,” she said quietly. “It’s a lot to hear that your baby has cancer when you’re all by yourself. I had to leave the room so I wouldn’t break down in front of my four-year-old.”

Soon Khairi was whisked away for blood transfusions to get his white blood cell count down, followed by surgery to place a port for chemotherapy. In a few days they learned that Khairi had acute myeloid leukemia (AML). His plan included seven rounds of intense chemo, with a break to recover in between each round. But it took Khairi’s body a long time to recover every time, and he rarely got to stay at home more than a few days.

Fortunately, Khairi was cancer-free after his final treatment and got to ring the bell at the hospital, a special tradition at the end of treatment. Michella had been forced to take a leave of absence from work, so they went home to rebuild their lives and get back to normal. But normal was short-lived. After a routine follow-up visit months later, Khairi’s doctor called them with the devastating news that the cancer was back.

“I was so angry,” Michella said. “I went back to work and thought we were finished. I never had one thought that this would come back and had let my guard down. When I got that call, I was lost.”

With just five days left in his first grade school year and a few baseball games left in the season, Michella let Khairi enjoy his school awards ceremony. Then she took him to the hospital where he began the process of a bone marrow transplant. The transplant went well, but Khairi reacted to the pain medication and was rushed to intensive care.  After he recovered and went home, he had some issues with graft versus host disease – a condition where the new bone marrow cells attack the recipient. But Khairi is strong and is pushing through it all.

“He’s finally doing pretty well,” Michella said. “Khairi has a long way to go, but we keep working through it all for each other.”

Khairi takes eighteen medications a day and is isolated because his immune system is so compromised. His transplant was a year ago, and he hopes to be back on the diamond playing baseball again soon. And with everything he’s been through, he will definitely be the strongest kid on the field.

An End in Sight

Tori has been through a lot in her 23 years. When she was just two, she fell at a family friend’s house and was obviously in a great deal of pain. At first, her parents assumed the pain was because of her fall. But an astute eye doctor noticed something else. Tori had a large tumor behind her eye and, her fall put pressure on it, which was the cause of her pain. She was diagnosed with stage 3 orbital rhabdomyosarcoma and began treatment immediately.

She had chemotherapy, radiation, and an 8-hour surgery to remove her eye and everything inside her eye socket.

“All-in-all, my treatment went pretty smoothly,” Tori recalled. “I wasn’t sick very often from the chemo and recovered from the surgery without pain medication. After it was over, I started to adjust to having a prosthetic eye.”

Tori naively believed that surviving would mean that she would be able to leave cancer behind. But that was not to be. Because of the harsh treatments necessary to achieve a cure, many children experience a wide variety of side effects, which can be realized immediately after treatment or years later. For Tori, the damage done by her treatment began to manifest itself right away.

Tori had to wear braces on her teeth for ten years. She had multiple jaw reconstruction surgeries, wore upper dentures, and finally got dental implants. Because the scar tissue from her surgeries made it impossible for her prosthetic eye to stay in place, she also had several surgeries to build up her eye socket. Tori estimates that throughout her life, she has had around 100 reconstructive surgeries to rebuild her face. That can be very hard on a girl at any age, much less as she is coming of age.

“The situation caused a lot of self-esteem and anxiety issues for me in school,” Tori said. “I wore my hair over my eye during high school so people couldn’t see. In college, I sucked up my anxiety and wore an eye patch. Most people were nice about it, but of course, some people stared or had a question or comment.”

Things have gotten a lot better for her over the last few years. She finally got a working prosthetic eye and dental implants that have boosted her confidence. While she has missed some school because of her surgeries, she is currently studying nursing with a minor in psychology at Kennesaw State University. She hopes to become a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where she spent most of her youth in treatment.

“I really want to use my experience to help kids,” she said. “Growing up is already hard enough as it is, and I want to be able to put them at ease when they’re in the hospital and to show them that they’re not alone. Having someone who’s been through what they’re going through helps both the child and the parents.”

For all she’s been through, Tori has an amazingly positive outlook.

“It took a lot of faith and the support of my family and real friends to get here,” Tori said. “It’s taken a long time, but things are getting better now because I can finally see the end.”

What Amaiyah Is Wishing For

Until early this year, Amaiyah had always led a very active life. She enjoyed hanging out with her three sisters, drawing, and praise-dancing at church. But in February she stopped acting like a typical seven-year-old. She slept more than normal, had little appetite, and got tired very quickly. Her mother took her to their pediatrician, who drew blood and diagnosed Amaiyah with mononucleosis. The doctor recommended that they schedule a follow-up visit in a month if she wasn’t feeling better. But Amaiyah continued to slow down and her symptoms only got worse. So in March, her parents took her straight to the emergency room.

When they arrived, Amaiyah’s blood sugar was at a level considered very dangerous, and she began going through an adrenal crisis. These symptoms indicated problems with the endocrine system, which is controlled by the pituitary gland. She was admitted to the hospital to stabilize her condition while doctors performed further testing.

The next day, the world began to shut down as COVID-19 took hold.

Imagine dealing with a sick child in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, with quarantines and social distancing. While Amaiyah’s family searched for answers, they worried that Amaiyah would be exposed to COVID-19 at the hospital and doctors’ offices they were visiting. They wondered how to keep her three sisters safe, as well.

After a week in the hospital, Amaiyah’s family got devastating news.

“The doctor finally came back and said she had a tumor pressing on her optic nerve,” said Amaiyah’s mother, Tequila. “The doctors informed us that she would need surgery in the near future, and they sent us home with medication to replace the function of the pituitary gland.”

Amaiyah’s surgery to remove the tumor took place on June 18. The tumor was wrapped around her pituitary gland, which regulates many of the body’s functions including blood sugar levels. A slice of the tumor was sent off to determine the type of cancer, and soon her family learned that she was fighting a malignant pure germinoma, a type of brain tumor that responds well to chemotherapy and radiation. After recovering from the surgery, Amaiyah had her port placed and began chemotherapy to shrink what remained of the tumor before moving on to radiation therapy.

“After her first chemo treatment, she did better than I expected,” said Tequila. “She was even able to eat afterward. But the chemo treatments have gotten progressively worse for her and recovery time takes longer.”

Knowing that the chemo would result in Amaiyah losing her hair, her mother, father, aunt, and even her grandmother shaved their heads in support. While the chemotherapy wasn’t easy, she knocked it out with only a few side effects. When she was with younger patients in the clinic, Amaiyah would even offer advice – telling them to remain still while receiving their treatment so the process would go faster.

Amaiyah’s next phase of treatment involved daily radiation at the Emory Proton Therapy Center in Atlanta. Proton therapy differs from standard radiation by delivering a beam of radiation that stops at the tumor instead of spreading beyond it like traditional radiation therapy, thereby reducing damage to healthy tissue. On the way to her appointments, she got a surprise when she saw herself on a CURE billboard.

“The first time we saw her face on the billboard, she almost missed it,” said Tequila. “We had to pull over and wait for the billboard to show her again. She was so excited to see herself up there!”

The proton therapy was a welcome relief from chemo and has been much easier to handle. Her energy level has been good, and Amaiyah’s family hopes to hear the words “No Evidence of Disease” very soon. Amaiyah is looking forward to being finished with treatment just in time to celebrate Christmas with her family. Being healthy again will be the best gift of all.

CURE is dedicated to conquering childhood cancer through funding targeted research while supporting patients and their families. Your gift of any amount will fund research that will allow kids like Amaiyah to live out her dreams.


Get Out and Move! A Survivor’s Guide to Exercise

Karen E. Effinger, MD, MS

We all know that physical activity and exercise are good for our health, but it’s especially important for childhood cancer survivors. Research has shown that adult survivors of childhood cancer who get regular vigorous exercise have better long-term health and live longer than those who don’t. Some survivors are at risk for heart disease, and studies have shown that these survivors can decrease their risk by performing aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise, also known as “cardio,” includes activities like walking fast, dancing, swimming, running, and cycling. Studies have also shown that physical activity helps mood, concentration and memory in all survivors.

The American Cancer Society and American Heart Association provide age-based recommendations for physical activity.

Preschoolers (ages 3-5)

  • 3 hours of active play per day
  • Replace sitting activities with play

Kids/Teens (ages 6-17)

  • 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity
  • Vigorous activity at least 3 days per week
  • Muscle and bone-strengthening activities at least 3 days per week

Adults (age 18+)

  • 150 minutes per week (30 minutes, 5 days per week) of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity or a combination of both
  • Muscle and bone-strengthening activities at least 2 days per week
  • Spend less time sitting

Survivors should follow these guidelines in order to improve their overall health. Strength training should include all muscle groups and should not exceed 2-3 times per week. For survivors who received treatment that may impact their heart, weightlifting should be limited. Survivors at risk for heart disease who would like to perform more intense exercise should be evaluated by a cardiologist first.

Tips for increasing exercise include:

  • Start out slow – don’t try activities that are too hard or not interesting
  • Pick activities you like
  • Find a friend or family member to do activities with
  • Alternate exercises to work different muscles
  • Instead of the elevator, take the stairs
  • Walk down the hall or march in place when a commercial comes on tv
  • Turn the screen into an exercise machine through exercise or activity videos
  • Take a brain break before homework to help with focus
  • Remember: Some is better than none!

Research has shown that active kids, teens, and young adults have better quality of life, heart health, lung health, bone health, attention, memory, school performance, and sleep. Exercise also decreases risk for chronic medical conditions (like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol), obesity, anxiety, depression, and fatigue. Survivors are encouraged to get as much physical activity as possible.


Karalyn’s Fight

Karalyn loves to draw and play soccer. On August 23, 2018, she left for school a healthy 10-year-old. But when she got off the bus, her life changed dramatically.

“I was waiting for her and she came bounding to me saying, ‘Mama, I’ve got something on my neck’,” recalled her mother, Jennifer. “What she showed me was a lump the size of a walnut. I tried not to panic, but I knew we needed to get her to a doctor.”

Her pediatrician started an antibiotic. But Jennifer took Karalyn to the emergency room for another opinion. The hospital sent her home with a different antibiotic. Two days later, the lump was even more swollen, so they went back to the hospital where where a biopsy was performed. On September 11 the surgeon called her to relay devastating news: Karalyn had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer was on both sides of her neck and her sternum.

“Karalyn had two very close relatives who had recently die of cancer,” Jennifer said. “Because of that, her only association with cancer was death, and we didn’t want her thinking that way. So we told her she had lymphoma but didn’t tell that was cancer.”

The family celebrated her 11th birthday early so that she could enjoy it before chemotherapy started.

Jennifer said that Karalyn processes things better if she knows what to expect. If she knows what is about to happen, she can prepare herself and handle it better. But unfortunately, a cancer diagnosis can make an ordered life jumbled, leading to uncertainty and anxiety.

Karalyn’s oncologist said she appeared to be an open and shut case. She would have three rounds of chemotherapy and then another scan. At that point, a vast majority of children are cancer-free. But this was not the case for Karalyn. She endured two more rounds of chemo and was supposed to start 12 weeks of radiation. But she did not qualify for proton beam radiation and the side effects of general radiation to the chest cavity can be so severe that her medical team did not want to proceed. Her next scan indicated that the tumors were gone, and even though two of her lymph nodes were considered abnormal, Karalyn was in remission. One year and a day after she was diagnosed, Karalyn was cancer-free.

“Somewhere along the way, she figured out that lymphoma was cancer,” Jennifer said. “Her response was to say, ‘I know that God gave me cancer so that he could bring our family closer together.’”

Karalyn was so strong during her treatment that she only missed one soccer game the entire time. Although the happy girl who found the lump on her neck is back, the experience has changed her. She checks herself for lumps constantly and will run to her mother if she feels anything.

“There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t look at Karalyn and become filled with both pride and fear all at the same time,” said Jennifer. “So proud of the battle she fought and won, yet so fearful of what could be in her future.”

Karalyn is eight months cancer-free, but has had some troubling symptoms lately that led to new scans. While both mother and daughter are anxious, they continue to be hopeful that their fight is finished.


Click HERE to see the children participating in CURE’s Kids Conquer Cancer One Day at a Time.