In a perfect world, children would not get cancer.
In a perfect word, all children would be enjoying life, playing with toys, texting and hanging out with friends.
Unfortunately, the world we live in is not perfect. Our world includes children who are worrying about cancer, having surgeries, trying not to throw up following chemotherapy and radiation treatments, watching their hair fall out, and missing school because they are too sick.
Warren County has several children who are battling the disease and they are to be remembered as September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Among the children in Warren County who have battled, or are battling, cancer are Hunter Bernhardt, Kelsi Caten, Chelsea Clark, Caitlin Cooley, Darien Craig, Hannah Disbro, Jackson Dunlap, Andy Dunn, Rose McKelvey, Morgan Mingle, Neka Perkins, Riley Rippee, Keley Roller, Tessa Smith, Hailey Taylor and Chloe Williamson. This is the most complete list the Standard could attain.
Presley Slatton and Joshua Scruggs are two Warren County children who have succumbed to cancer.
All children who have suffered from cancer have their own stories to tell. Here are a few:
Hannah Disbro is an 18-year-old who recently graduated from Boyd Christian School.
Hannah noticed a bump on her hip in March. Doctors diagnosed it as a fatty cyst and told her it was nothing to worry about. The doctor said it was most likely 99 percent non-cancer. Hannah said she had been losing weight all year to the point where she could feel her hip bones.
By May, the lump had gotten bigger. Hannah had a biopsy at the end of May and found out in June the lump was actually single cell sarcoma.
The mass removed July 26 from Hannah’s hip was the size of a grapefruit. Doctors also found a spot the size of a penny on her femur. Hannah was required to take chemo and lost her hair within a week of round one.
“I got baptized on Sept. 8 and was afraid all the hair I have left would end up in the baptistery, but my youth pastor said there was not one hair in that tub. I think God was winking at me,” said Hannah.
Hannah just finished round two of chemo. After three rounds of chemo, doctors will reevaluate and may take a sliver of bone out.
At the beginning of this week, Hannah experienced dehydration and low blood pressure which caused her to black out, cracking her back and spraining her ankle. She ended up back in Vanderbilt.
“I’m mad because I’m back in here when I shouldn’t be here. But, through all this, I’ve realized how amazing God is. He’s working through me and I’ve amazed the doctors. Because it was on my femur, they said it has to be somewhere else. Every time I would get a scan, I would pray to God to take care of it. The scans showed I have nothing but that one spot. They say to me, ‘You’re so lucky’. I say I’m completely blessed,” said Hannah.
Hannah lost her college scholarship because she was unable to start school in the fall.
“I took classes at Motlow while I was in high school and would have had my associate’s degree in May. I want to major in English. I want to be a literature teacher so bad. I don’t think people should lose their scholarship because they got sick with cancer,” said Hannah.
“The best part is when I forget I have cancer sometimes. It is amazing to feel normal again. But, I wouldn’t change it for the world. This was my plan all along. I have to believe with all my heart everything happens for a reason. This is God’s way to make me look around and appreciate even the smallest things in life,” Hannah said.
Chelsea Clark is a 12-year-old who has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma.
She woke up in June 2012 with her left arm hurting. Her mother, Vickie, said she had been swimming for two weeks straight and they thought she had pulled a muscle. The last week of June she went to gymnastics and could not support herself.
An X-ray showed a break in the humerus, which is normally very hard to break. Chelsea wore a sling for three or four weeks and needed a medical release to try out for cheerleading. A second X-ray looked like the bone was healing. By the end of July, she was in excruciating pain because a tumor was growing inside the bone which broke it farther apart.
On Aug. 2, doctors found out Chelsea had cancer and by that time she was in so much pain nothing helped. Osteosarcoma is very aggressive and can spread to the brain and blood stream.
Scans, CTs and MRIs at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis showed the cancer had spread to both lungs. Emergency surgery was scheduled for Aug. 10 in which doctors removed five nodules from her right lung.
She started taking chemo to work on smaller areas in her left lung.
Chelsea’s mother, Vickie, said, “Chelsea had lost about 20 pounds. Before we knew she was sick, she had pallor to her skin and her hair was dry and lost its luster. She didn’t look healthy before we knew what was happening. It was probably the tumor taking nutrients from her body.”
Chelsea underwent a nine-hour surgery on her arm on Oct. 22.
Surgeons took out most of Chelsea’s deltoid muscle, replaced her humerus with prosthesis and replaced the shoulder bone with an artificial shoulder joint.
Chelsea underwent 39 weeks of chemo. She had surgery Aug. 12 of this year to cut out two spots on her lungs.
Chelsea said she hopes to have a career in the medical field someday. “I always wanted to be a nurse, but now I know all the gross things they have to do. I might be a therapist. Or, I might like to be a singer. I’m not sure.”
Chloe Williamson is 10 years old. On Jan. 15 of this year, she was diagnosed with Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Cancer was found in her blood.
Chloe said, “I know God will not let me die from this. I just wish I knew what His plan is for me to do about it.”
Chloe’s mother, Heather, said, “For the last eight months I have seen her so sick she could barely move, lose all her hair twice, not be able to eat or keep anything down, get countless shots, have hundreds of bags and syringes of needles put into her small body, have joint and body pains as if she were very old, miss out on all the sports and events that her friends get to go do, and see and hear so many things a child should never know about. However, I have also seen her laugh, wear her shirt that says, ‘Good Hair Day’ just for kicks at the clinic, lie around watching normal TV shows, read, play outside when she can, do homework, and nearly always through everything, smile. Don’t get me wrong, we have bad days. However, we believe all we’ve been through will eventually be for a reason. We also know many children who are diagnosed with cancer do not live to tell their story.”
Kelsi Caten was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma cancer when she was 17 months old. She went through five surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and two transplants at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. She then had six months of treatments. Kelsi finished her treatments at Vanderbilt last December.
According to Kelsi’s mother, Rosanne, she has had no evidence of cancer since last November.
“Kelsi goes in for scans every three months, and will continue to do so for two more years. Kelsi just had scans last week, and there were no cancer cells in her body,” said Rosanne. “This is just the news we want to keep hearing! The people of Warren County have been so loving and supportive to us. Kelsi is now a very happy, active 3-and-a-half year old little girl who just started dance class at Paula’s Dance Academy. It was a wonderful thing to watch Kelsi dance in her first dance class. Two years ago she was in the hospital for almost the whole month of September. She was so sick, and at that point the doctors did not even know if her tumors were responding to the chemotherapy. So, to see her out there on that dance floor this week was a special milestone.”
Thanks to ongoing advances in research and treatment, the five-year survival rate for all childhood cancers has climbed from less than 50 percent to 80 percent over the past several decades.
Vickie Clarke has started a support page on Facebook for families of children battling cancer. The page is Chelsea’s Hope for a Cure.