Giving to others gives meaning to Haley's battle with cancer
Haley is only 7 years old, but she carries herself with a quiet strength and a calm self-assurance that seems far beyond her years. Perhaps that’s because her childhood has been colored by more than playgrounds and petting zoos. The fabric of who she is and who she’ll become has also been weaved by doctors, hospitals, chemotherapy and cancer.
Haley’s parents, Chad and Christy, never expected cancer to become a part of their family, but on January 12th, 2009 their lives changed forever. Four-year-old Haley was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Four days earlier, on a Thursday, her teacher noticed her limping at school, and Haley complained of pain in her leg. Over the weekend her pain progressed. By the time she saw her pediatrician on Monday morning, she was unable to walk because of severe pain. After completing some blood tests, her pediatrician delivered the shocking news.
Christy remembers, “I didn’t even know what leukemia was. I had no idea it was cancer. I didn’t understand at all what was happening.”
Their pediatrician arranged for them to go directly to Arnold Palmer Hospital to meet Dr. Don Eslin, a specialist who cares for kids with cancer.
As Chad carried his little girl out of the doctor’s office, she asked, “Daddy, am I going to be okay?”
He answered, “Yes, you’re going to be fine.” Yet, as he reassured her, he was quietly asking himself the same question.
And as she looked at both of her parents, she asked, “Are you crying because you love me?”
Chad answered, “More than you know, baby.”
When they arrived at the hospital, Dr. Eslin met them and explained Haley’s situation. He ordered more blood tests, and he confirmed Haley’s diagnosis.
“I felt immediately that we were in good hands. Dr. Eslin sat down in the room with us. He said, ‘What questions do you have for me? Ask me anything you want.’ I knew we were in the best place we could be,” Christy says.
The next day Haley began chemotherapy treatment. After several days, she was able to go home, and for the next 32 months she returned to the hospital periodically to receive her chemotherapy medications.
Within her course of treatment, she was officially declared cancer-free. Now each year on February 13th, Haley and her family commemorate the day that symbolizes her second chance at life. They celebrate her special occasion with a joyous party, complete with cake, balloons, family and friends.
“Some people have asked us, ‘Don’t you just want to put all of this behind you?’ And I say no. I don’t ever want this experience to leave our thoughts. It is a part of our lives forever now,” Christy says.
She explains, “You would never want this to happen to your child, but I wouldn’t change it. As Haley gets older, we want her to remember what she’s been through. We want her to know the importance of giving back and being a supporter of other kids going through this.”
As a way to give back, Haley and her parents have established a non-profit organization, Hugz from Bugz, which raises money to help families affected by childhood cancer. Haley visits the hospital often to bring toys and gifts to the children who are fighting the same battle that she fought.
And although she has been through a difficult struggle, in the process she has become a little girl full of love, compassion and generosity. She shares her love of life and her soulful sensitivity with those who need it.
Perhaps the best gift that Haley brings to these families, though, is that of hope. For these children and families who are filled with fear in the face of a terrible disease, Haley is a living symbol of hope.