Fighting Childhood cancer
Eighty cents might not seem like much to most people. But to the mother of a child with cancer, it means hope.
Students and staff at Daleville Elementary School participated in a hat day in November to raise funds for second-grader Katie Kline.
Katie was recently diagnosed with a rare form of nerve cancer for the fifth time in her life. She was first diagnosed when she was 3 years old, and has recovered four times in five years.
The hat day raised $1,529.80 for Katie.
"That eighty cents," Terry Storer said over the phone on a cold December night. "I just know that kids were taking the money off of their dresser or bringing in their piggy banks to give to Katie."
She paused for a long moment. She was crying.
"I'm sorry, it's been a long day," she said. Storer had spent the last eight hours at Riley Hospital for Children for treatments with Katie.
"I want to finish this thought before we're done," she said, sounding exhausted. "The community here has really touched my heart. We've only lived here for a year and they have welcomed us with open arms.
"She touches the heart of every person she meets," Storer added. "You've got to meet Katie."
Katie lives in Daleville with her mother, older brother Aiden and her stepfather Michael. Their home is tucked away on a long country road near open fields. The day of an interview with The Yorktown Press at the family's home, Storer smiled as she stepped out of the car holding a cheese pizza and apologized for being late.
"Katie said that she was hungry and she wanted pizza," Storer said with excitement. Katie's treatments often cause her to lose her appetite. Her mother didn't want to miss the opportunity to get the 36-pound girl to eat something to help her gain a little weight.
Katie also loves popsicles. She stuck out her blue tongue as she enjoyed one of her favorite flavors. She sat propped up on pillows on her bed in her room next to her mother for the interview. Katie's room is a bright purple burst of color, animal print and Justin Bieber.
"She loves Justin Bieber," Storer said as she tried to coax the shy 8-year-old into speaking. A giant cardboard cutout of the pop star stands in the corner of her room along with other colorful photos. Katie even wears Justin Bieber shirts to sleep.
One of Katie's favorite memories is when she got to meet Bieber earlier this year. "He was tall," she said with a shy smile. "And he smelled good." Family friends made the arrangements for her to meet the pop star.
Music is one of Katie's favorite subjects in school. "Katie loves music and writing," Storer said. Going to school has sometimes been difficult for Katie. "She's been in a lot of pain lately," Storer said. The family will often pick up homework for Katie to help her keep from falling behind in school.
On good days, when Katie feels up to going to school, Storer has to call ahead to let the school know. "I call to see if any illnesses are going around," she said. "We have to be very careful with her." Katie's immune system has been weakened from the cancer and she is therefore more susceptible to illness than other children.
"The ladies in the office have really stepped up to help her," Storer said. Katie will sometimes spend time in the office if she isn't feeling well during the day. "They are her buddies."
Storer said that Katie's older brother, Aiden, has also received the support of the community. "The school has been phenomenal with Aiden," she said. A lot Daleville students and staff have stepped up to be his "buddy" and offer him any support he might need. "This situation is a lot for anyone to handle," she said. Aiden's grades declined for a short time when Katie relapsed. "He's a brilliant student. This is just a difficult time," she said.
Katie's form of cancer is uncommon. "She has the rarest form of childhood cancer," Storer said as she unwrapped a blue popsicle for the 8-year-old. Katie has neuroblastoma, a condition in which nerve cells divide continuously but the immune system can not clear out the extra cells. Storer estimates that the family spends about $500 a week for her treatments. She also takes Katie to New York for treatment once a month by experts on this form of cancer.
"We're going into debt to save her," she said. Her husband recently purchased a $4,000 light therapy lamp with his charge card to help with her treatment. "He's an incredible man," Storer said.
"It's really helped with the pain in her legs," Storer said of the lamp. The purple lamp runs on a schedule for Katie each day and puts out a frequency that might help Katie's body fight the cancer. The family also uses palliative treatments, small amounts of pain medications, to help with her treatment.
"She has been amazing," Storer said. Katie sits through blood counts and remains completly still for 45-minute MRI sessions whenever she is asked. And she never complains.
Katie and her family met 32 children with the same cancer when she was first diagnosed five years ago. Twenty-seven of those children are no longer alive. "We've watched their path," she said "And I've walked a tightrope with holistic medicine and medical treatment for her." Storer feels that their avoidance of harsh medical treatment has kept Katie healthy enough to fight the cancer.
"The survival rate for children with this type of cancer is two percent," she said. And that rate is for children who get this form of cancer one time. Storer knew of no statistics for the survival rate of children who develop this form of cancer a second time.
"This is her fifth fight, which is almost unheard of," Storer said. "We're big believers. And we think that all of the prayers and positive messages that people are putting out there are having an effect."
Daleville students and staff have shown their support for Katie over the last few months with fundraisers, messages and phone calls to the family.
"Daleville is a special place," she said. "We were definitely brought here for a reason. It makes it easier to do this every day when you know that you have an entire community praying for you."