By Becky Barclay
Published in News on September 7, 2013 10:33 PM
Haleigh Wilhide shares a special moment with her 11-month-old daughter, Piper, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancerous tumor between her spine and heart, when she was just 4 weeks old.
Even when their frail 4-week-old daughter, Piper, was suffering through chemotherapy and enduring operations to remove a cancerous tumor, her parents knew something good would come out of it -- and it has.
So now, Randy and Haleigh Wilhide are doing what they can to pay back the people -- and organizations -- they leaned on when times were tough.
The Wilhides are holding the first-ever Piper's Promise 5K and One Mile Run on Saturday in downtown Goldsboro.
Proceeds from the event will be divided between the Ronald McDonald House and Riley's Army in Greenville -- the groups they say helped them through their daughter's battle.
Piper was only 4 weeks old when her mother had a gut feeling that something wasn't right.
"I don't really know how to explain it," Haleigh said. "So I walked into LaGrange Pediatrics and I said, 'I want you to look at her.' They found a fast heart rate and nothing else. But they sent us to Wayne Memorial Hospital and they did an EKG and it was fine."
And since the pediatric cardiologist was not there that day, Piper was sent to East Carolina Heart Institute in Greenville.
"We were getting ready to check out and at the last minute, they decided to do a sonogram," Haleigh said. "It was almost done when the doctor said, 'Wait a minute, what's that?' He pointed to a kind of a gray ball on the screen, just beyond the heart."
After a CT scan the next day at Vidant Hospital, the Wilhides heard the word no parent wants to hear -- cancer.
Piper had Stage 3 intermediate risk neuroblastoma.
"When I first heard that word, I just started screaming and putting my head in a pillow," Haleigh said. "It was awful. It's literally like your worst nightmare.
"It took a couple days to finally kind of stop being like a baby myself to putting my game face on. I couldn't even say the word 'cancer' for about five months. I called it, 'The monster.' We prayed and prayed and prayed."
But finding out when they did was, in its own way, a miracle, the Wilhides said.
"We should have never even found out she had it," Haleigh said. "And then she should have been paralyzed by the time it got to her spine. They said it probably grew almost the entire pregnancy because it was so huge. It was the size of a softball. And she was so little at 4 weeks. It was literally her whole back."
Piper endured six rounds of chemotherapy, which did nothing to the tumor.
Then she had to have two surgeries to remove it.
And after two more rounds of chemo, she was, at last, declared NED -- no evidence of disease.
That was in April.
But the little girl still has reminders of what could have been a life-ending ordeal -- a scar that runs down most of her back and one on her side.
"During everything, Piper did very, very good," Haleigh said. "She threw up a few times. Even with her shots, sometimes she wouldn't even cry. She just showed us what being tough is all about. We were proud of her. She's our pride and joy."
During the treatments and surgeries, Haleigh never left Piper's side.
The Wilhides' families came down from Ohio and Pennsylvania. Randy and the relatives stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Greenville.
"We found it through our social worker," Randy said. "We had heard about the Ronald McDonald House, but never knew what it was for. We had planned on camping out at the hospital.
"They offered a room to us and our family. It's amazing what they do for people. They gave us one meal a day and unlimited supplies in the kitchen so we could go in and cook breakfast or lunch or whatever we needed."
Randy said the Ronald McDonald House was a home to him and a getaway from the hospital where he could go to recharge, sleep, before going back to the hospital.
The Wilhides got support from not only the Ronald McDonald House, but also from other families staying there going through their own ordeals, who shared their stories of hope.
"Everyone there was so helpful," Haleigh said. "You think you live in a little bubble, then, boom, something happens and things are different. Now we have a new normal."
But the Ronald McDonald House was not the only organization that supported the family.
Riley's Army, a cancer support organization, took them pizzas and offered gas cards.
So Saturday, they will repay them -- even if, they say, they will never be able to do for those groups what they did for them.
Piper's Promise 5K and One Mile Run will begin at 9 a.m.
Anyone who wants to sign up for the event may register from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. the day of the run or go to www.active.com and do a search for Piper.
The cost through the end of today is $30 for the 5K and $15 for the one mile. The cost after Monday is $35 for the 5K and $20 for the one mile
Winners will receive Piper's Promise medals instead of trophies.
There will be other activities including food vendors, a disc jockey, a clown, balloons, face painting, tattoos, snow cones and much more.
You don't have to run to attend the event.
The goal is $30,000, and about $20,000 has already been raised, Haleigh said.
"It's an event to celebrate Piper's life and give back," she said. "And we want to do it every year. It will take the focus off the negatives."