This one is for the children
By Becky Barclay
Published in News on May 21, 2006 2:10 AM
Among those gathered for this weekend's Relay for Life were some young people who know what it takes to beat cancer firsthand.
They walked for themselves, but also to make sure others like them will not have to face cancer battles of their own.
And this year, for the first time, they could join other youths in a Relay that was all their own.
Ten-year-old Leann Carbin, a student at Greenwood Middle School, might look fine today, but in December 2001, she was very ill with Ewings Sarcoma -- a cancer in her right leg.
Her mother, Traci, said Leann was in a lot of pain that first year. She had to have surgery and couldn't walk for six months because she was in a cast.
"They got the tumor out of her bone by taking the bone out and replacing it with a donor bone," Mrs. Carbin said. "She had to have physical therapy to get her leg back up and running. But he can't run or anything like that now."
Leann said the cancer treatments made her very sick.
"It made me lose my hair, too," she said.
She braved surgery and treatments for a year.
Every six months, the doctors check Leann's leg. She and her family know their battle is not over yet.
"She will have to have more surgery on her leg because that donor bone's not going to last for ever," Mrs. Carbin said. "They'll have to go in and put another type of bone in there or a rod to extend it as she grows. We're hoping it's not in the next couple of years."
They know they have to be careful.
"If she breaks that leg at any time before then, she's done and will have to have the surgery right away," Mrs. Carbin said.
But that didn't stop Leann from making this year's Relay.
She has participated for the past two years.
"I eat dinner and then I do the survivor walk," she said. "It's really fun and for a good cause."
Mrs. Carbin said the money raised not only funds research. It also helps families.
"You're helping with a good cause," she said. "You're helping survivors so they can maybe pay medical bills or like with us, it helped us with gas back and forth to treatments."
Leann and her mother do not know what the future will bring.
"(The doctors) will never say that she's in remission because it can come back at any time or it can come back as leukemia," Mrs. Carbin said.
But for Leann, battling cancer is just part of life for now. Her advice for other children facing cancer?
"Be brave," she said.
Jazmyn Marrero, 14, was 5 when she found out she had aplastic anemia.
"I remember staying in the hospital for what seemed to be a year, but it wasn't that long," the teenager said. "I remember waking up one time during the surgery."
She said she was scared during her bout with the disease.
"I didn't know what was going to happen."
Her mother, Tawania, explained that Jazmyn's disease -- a sister to leukemia -- made her bone marrow stop working.
She remembers the day her daughter was diagnosed.
"The way we found out was that she started bruising and we didn't know what the bruising was coming from," Mrs. Marrero said. "It was because her white blood cells weren't working properly. That's why every time she just bumped herself, she bruised."
Jazmyn had to have a bone marrow transplant about four months after being diagnosed. Her sister was her donor.
"This is a very rare disease and that's why if it hadn't been for her sister being her donor, we don't know what would have happened," Mrs. Marrero said. "If she had not had the transplant, she would have died."
This was Jazmyn's first Relay, but she said it won't be her last. She walked on the track both Friday night and Saturday morning to help raise money for cancer research.
"I feel like it's something I kind of have to do because I went through it," she said. "And I would just like to help support everybody else who's going through it."
She has some advice from the eyes of a veteran for other children who might find out they, too, will face cancer.
"Don't look at it as if you're about to die," she said. "Go on living like you were before and hope for the best. And pray."
Jazmyn and more than 200 other children and youths got the chance to have a Relay of their own this year.
Kidswalk began Saturday with the traditional ribbon-cutting.
Holding the scissors was 12-year-old Tiffany Hill.
Tiffany was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2000 when she was 6, her mother, Holly, said.
At first her parents just thought she had the flu, but Tiffany had so many cysts in her left lung that they had pushed her heart over to the right side of her body, her mother said.
The 6-year-old had surgery to remove the lower left lobe of her left lung.
The teenager said decided to participate in the children's Relay to help others who might be battling cancer, and to raise money to stop others from experiencing the same battle she fought.
She advises those who are already fighting to remember their faith.
"God will help you along the way," she said.
She hopes to see many more people at next year's Relay.
"There are a lot of people dying from cancer, and we're trying to find a cure," she said.
Caleb Whitfield, 6, helped Tiffany cut the ribbon for Kidswalk. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2002 when he was almost 3.
His mother, Crystal, said his is a cancer of the blood.
"He went through chemotherapy," she said. "He has a portacath that they had to put in in 2003 so they could give him the chemo and not have to poke him in the veins so much. Before the portacath, one time they had to put the needle in his feet because they couldn't get it to take in his hands."
Mrs. Whitfield said Caleb would be very tired during his treatments, but would never really complain.
His bravery inspired his parents, she said.
"He's been a real trooper. He made it easier for us to get through it because he was so good about it."
Caleb has been off the chemotherapy treatments for a year now and is in remission. He will even get his portacath out in the near future.
"He's in kindergarten at Grantham and doing great," his mother said.
This was Caleb's fourth year at the Relay. The first year he was a member of the Purple Star Survivors Team, but now he is with Southern Wayne High School National Honor Society's team because his mother teaches there. He said he takes part in the Relay because he likes to walk. He said he also likes lighting the luminarias and sampling all the food.
Mrs. Whitfield said it was devastating for her and her husband to find out their baby had a life-threatening illness.
She and her husband know firsthand why participating in the Relay matters.
"We didn't know if he was going to make it or not," she said. "Back in the early 70s, for the type of leukemia he had, there was only a 50 percent survival rate. Because of resarch, by the time Caleb was diagnosed, that had climbed to 80 percent. Just because of events like this, it's come that far."
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