Gracie is a happy five year old little girl who enjoys having fun with her two older sisters, Katie and Tricia.
Three years ago in April, Gracie was playing with her sisters, and my wife, Terri, noticed she seemed a little swollen around her glands. Terri called me at the office and said she was going to be cautious and have Gracie checked out by the doctor just to be safe. An hour later Terri called again to say they had taken a blood sample and thought we should take Gracie to Scottish Rite hospital. While we waited in the lab of Scottish Rite, we received a phone call from our pediatrician. Dr Empen told Terri we needed to go immediately to the emergency room because Gracie’s blood sample came back positive for leukemia. Terri broke down in tears. When Terri hung up with the pediatrician, Gracie walked over to her and told her that everything was going to be okay. Gracie obviously had no idea why Terri was crying, but only knew she needed some comfort.
Upon our arrival at Scottish Rite, we were whisked into the triage area of the emergency wing and introduced to Dr. Alan Anderson, a Fellow in the Oncology Department. Dr. Anderson proceeded to explain that normal white blood counts are anywhere from 5,000-10,000 white blood cells which fight off infection. Gracie’s counts were 363,000. Due to the fact that her counts were so high, Gracie was classified as high risk.
The next day, Dr. Anderson introduced us to Dr. Glenn Lew. The two doctors spoke to Terri and me about entering Gracie into a study which would not only help her, but also help other children in the future based upon Gracie’s study results. They went on to explain that there were four different legs on this particular study, each varying in intensity as to the amount of medication to be administered. The leg of treatment selected for Gracie would be determined at random.
As parents, we were still trying to digest and accept where we were and exactly what ALL leukemia is, and we were now facing decisions about whether to enter Gracie into a study. Terri and I proposed many “what if” questions to Dr. Lew and Dr. Anderson. After many prayers, we came to the conclusion that the best path would be to enter Gracie into the study. Later that day, we found out Gracie was randomized for the most aggressive of the four legs in the study.
Terri and I agonized over our decision because Gracie would need to take the highest dosage of medication. On the other hand, since her counts were higher than any other recorded at Scottish Rite at the time, we thought that the most aggressive leg would be her best hope for survival. Throughout the two and half years of treatment, we were reassured of our decision by Gracie’s response to the protocol of her study.
We tried our best not to let Gracie’s childhood be taken from her during her treatment. Gracie, to this day, does not quite understand what she has just gone through and accomplished at such a young age. Last May, we found out Terri was pregnant and after we told the girls, Gracie asked me, “Will the baby go to Scottish Rite too?” I realized Gracie thought every child went through what she had, and that it was just a part of growing up.
Gracie’s two older sisters, Tricia, now eleven, and Katie, six years old, were as supportive as any two sisters could be. They did not quite understand exactly just how sick Gracie was, but they understood she needed more attention than we could give the two of them. We were supported by our families, friends and our parish. Our families rallied to our aid without question and offered their time away from their lives to help us. We are truly blessed to have our families for all they have done. There isn’t enough room on the page to mention all of the kind acts of love we received from our friends and parishioners, from meals, to watching Tricia and Katie at a moment’s notice, to all of the gifts and prayers. It is all so amazing that thinking back on it now is overwhelming.
Over the course of the past three years, we have come across some of the most amazing people, from other children’s parents who are some of the strongest individuals I have ever met, to volunteers who have taken time out of their lives to make sure that we were cared for as if we were royalty. There are so many who have contributed to Gracie’s successful treatment. CURE has played a major role in Gracie’s recovery. It was CURE’s “OPEN ARMS” program which allowed us to go home after our first week in the hospital. Dr. Anderson said Gracie could go home once she ate a meal. It was Thursday night on the third floor and it was pizza night! Gracie ate three pieces of pizza and Dr. Anderson was impressed enough to let us go home. It is CURE that funds two Fellows at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. It is CURE that invests a majority of their funds for studies and research in defeating childhood cancer.
I thought about all of those in the past who had volunteered their time in a way that benefited our family. The survival rate is so much higher today thanks to all of the volunteers and organizations like CURE. With that in mind, I contacted Kristin Connor at CURE and told Kristin to give me a call if there was any way I could help. Hopefully some of my efforts will benefit a child or family in the very near future.
Today’s Spotlight Story was written by Gracie’s Dad, Bill Malloy