Too young to know, Maleea just smiles
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 24, 2011 1:50 AM
Maleea Bowden sleeps in her Mount Olive home. The scar on the little girl's head is a result of the biopsy conducted at Duke Hospital that revealed she had a primitive neuroectodermal tumor -- an aggressive form of cancer.
Bobby Gaines Jr. and Edlaina Bowden play with their daughter, Maleea, in their Mount Olive home. Maleea was diagnosed with a brain tumor more than three months ago.
Maleea Bowden rests on her mother, Edlaina's chest Thursday.
MOUNT OLIVE -- Maleea didn't stir when her father ran a hand across her cheek -- when he wrapped her fingers in his own and asked her for a smile.
But when Bobby Gaines Jr. worked a pacifier out of his daughter's mouth, the 7-month-old, at last, opened her eyes.
"Well, that woke her up," the girl's father said, looking down only to discover a reaction quite contrary to the one he was after. "Uh-oh. Guess I better put it back."
Moments later, Maleea was, again, sleeping peacefully.
"I wish she was awake. She's got such a pretty smile," her grandmother, Wanda McCoy, said. "And when she's awake, she's always smiling."
Those closest to Maleea say it's almost as if she is bound to the state of joy reflected in the expression she seemingly always wears.
But even they would have found it hard to believe, had they not seen it with their own eyes, that she carried her smile to Wayne Memorial Hospital the day an MRI revealed she had a brain tumor -- that she has worn it through countless CT scans, blood transfusions, ultrasounds and rounds of chemotherapy.
"They say she's a fighter," her mother, Edlaina said. "I mean, she plays through the chemo."
"They told us that this is a remarkable baby," he said. "They act like she's supposed to be in pain, but she goes through everything and comes out smiling. They say they've never seen nothing like it."
It started with a simple twitch -- a flutter of the eye Bobby assumed was normal.
"I thought it was just something that kids go through," he said.
But when the spasms started coming on more frequently, Edlaina took her then-4-month-old to the pediatrician.
"Her doctor, he got on the phone with one of his friends from ECU, and he said, 'In some kids, it will go away. But most of the time, when kids have something like that, it's in both of their eyes.'"
A few moments later, Edlaina was advised to take Maleea from Mount Olive to Wayne Memorial Hospital for an MRI.
"That's when they found it," she said.
But even then, the severity of the tumor that was revealed remained unknown.
So Maleea's pediatrician offered another piece of advice.
"He said he was going to call some people at Duke," Edlaina said. "I cried really, really bad."
And within a few hours, she and a group of supporters were on their way to Durham -- clinging to the hope that the little girl with the million-dollar smile would be OK.
"At 10 in the morning, to us, she just had a twitch in her eye," Wanda said. "But by 5 that afternoon, we had about 12 people sitting in the Emergency Room at Duke."
Maleea still wears the scar created by the biopsy that identified the growth as a primitive neuroectodermal tumor.
And for the last several months, Edlaina and others have split their time between Durham and their Wayne County home.
"The past two months, nobody knows where they've gone," Wanda said. "Everything has been a blur."
It's a lifestyle that seems to have hit Bobby the hardest.
"(Edlaina) has to go up there and go through everything but I can't even go. One of us has got to work. We've got two other kids to take care of so one paycheck still has to be brought in," he said. "So I spend my time at work thinking about them, you know, wondering, 'Is she gonna be all right?'"
Maleea, though, doesn't seem to mind.
Through it all, her smile never wavers.
It has been more than three months since Maleea was diagnosed with cancer.
And since she began chemotherapy, doctors have celebrated what they consider incredible progress.
"The tumor, it's not even half the size it was before," Edlaina said. "She's doing really good."
So as a family continues to pray that their little girl makes a full recovery, some within it refuse to worry.
Maleea, they say, is going to win her battle.
And she'll do it smiling.
"Nobody is ready for something like this. Nobody thinks that something like this is gonna happen. But this is what grandma thinks. Grandmama thinks that ... when I say my prayers at night and I'm looking for the future, it's right there. I know we're going to get there," Wanda said. "She's already showing the miracle. So let's just say that we're not worried. We have hope."
Want to help?
Maleea's family is currently planning a series of events to help raise the funds necessary to offset the cost of weekly trips to Duke. An event, they say, will be held in Mount Olive in September and as more details become available, those who wish to attend will be notified. Those interested in assisting with the event -- or those who want more information about Maleea -- are asked to contact her grandmother, Wanda McCoy, at 750-2242.