Shreveport Louisiana: Mia, like many kids, has never had anything more than a cold or the flu during the first 8 years of her life. When she had symptoms of what was thought to be the flu, her family took her to see the pediatrician. The flu was indeed ruled out but, blood work pointed to a virus. Another week went by, and symptoms were the same. Three weeks came and went, and she got a small cut on her hand. Within 24 hours, that cut became infected. Although her hand started to heal, Mia still felt achy and feverish. It was at this point her parents noticed her stomach starting to swell from internal pressure. On April 14th, 2011, approximately 4 weeks later, they took yet another visit to see her pediatrician; one which changed their lives forever. They were immediately sent to LSUHSC in Shreveport, Louisiana. Mia, just 8 years old at the time, was diagnosed with leukemia.
On April 15th, 2011 Mia and her mother, Christie Barnes, were flown to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The days became weeks, which turned to long months filled with intense chemotherapy, and sleepless nights. Although, they were hopeful, there were many moments blanketed by fear. Sometimes in life, even in the darkest of moments there are small glimpses of light, even if just for a moment. That light coupled with a strong faith and strength from within, Mia, and her family powered through with courage and bravery.
It was in the beginning of Mia’s treatment when she and I first met. I was in Shrevport, Louisiana planning the launch of our first Dunk Your Kicks Event outside the Tri-State Area, with local friends Sonja Bailes, and Ken Ash. I passed through security, and headed towards the gate, on my way home to Manhattan. As I approached the gate, I noticed a mother sitting off in the corner with her daughter. Her daughter had a mask on her face, protecting her from germs. She was hairless. I knew instantly that they were off to St. Judes. I sat down next to the mom, even though there were at least 50 open seats available in the waiting area. I gave her my card, and said if there was anything that she needed to please give me a call. I got up and sat on the other side of the seating area to give them their space. My guess was that they were not up for small talk, especially from a random “Yankee” like myself. To my surprise, weeks later I received a call from Christie Barnes, Mia’s mom. Mia was one of the very first children to be in our Roar Beyond Barriers Program.
It has been 2 1/2 years since Mia was diagnosed with leukemia. Like all leukemia patients, Mia succumbed to the harsh side effects brought on by the treatments. She lost her hair, she gained weight, was pale and nauseous most days, vomiting often in the middle of the night. Her life was far different from her friends and their families. Many times her white blood cell counts were so low, and her fever ran high, she was forced to make late night visits to the urgent care unit. I can remember when Max’s fever would run north of 102 and his counts were low. We bundled him up, put him in a stroller and I ran down 68th street on the Upper East Side to the Urgent Care Unit at Memorial Sloan- Kettering Cancer Center. Those were long and painful nights.
Happily, two weeks ago Mia finished her last round of chemotherapy. This was the best early Christmas present she and her family could ever have hoped to receive. Today Mia, is cancer free, which means today is a great day. Tomorrow is a new day of hope, and the following day is one step further away from the cancer that poisoned Mia, and the harsh memories of the past 2 1/2 years. One never knows how much our children will remember of the tough times. As parents, we hope it wont hold them back, as they strive for greatness, and live the life they deserve. Perhaps, for many of the children who fought the battle of cancer and survived, will be better prepared for life and its challenges. For the siblings and the family members of children who were not fortunate to survive, I hope they too will be stronger. There is so much to this disease that I will never understand. These innocent children get drafted to fight a war they never signed up for. Many do survive, but too many don’t. For me, the words “it’s malignant” still echo in my ear every day. Walk one city block in the shoes of a parent who has a child battling cancer, and all the other stuff in your life becomes just “stuff”.
As parents of a pediatric cancer survivor, life is never the same. We never know if the cancer will come back, nor will we know the side effects from the chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is like a tsunami and it takes out everything in it’s path. We hope the flowers will one day grow again, and pray the weeds don’t come back.
Learning that Mia successfully completed her treatment, and is in remission today, hits home to me personally. Of the 60 plus families across the country which we have helped and who is currently in our program, I don’t have the opportunity to meet most of them. But, Mia and her mom invited me to Shrevport, Louisiana back in spring of 2012 to bring Dunk Your Kicks to Bossier Parish. I introduced the community to The Max Cure Foundation, and our mission. It was a roaring success, and we even made it to the State Fair in November.
Now that Mia is no longer on treatment, she and her family can try and get back to life as they once knew it. Every time I approach a gate in any airport, I think of Mia and her mom, and how pediatric cancer does not discriminate. It can come into ones home at any given time, whether living in Manhattan or in Shrevport, Louisiana. It doesn’t care about the color of your skin, how much money you have, or who you know. I learned that for Mia’s Make A Wish Experience, she wants to visit New York City this summer. I promised her mom that with Max, we will take her to one of our favorite NYC Restaurants. On behalf of The Max Cure Foundation, I would like to give three ROARS for Mia. We will Roar for a Cure until one is found. – David Plotkin