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CURE: The Faces of Childhood Cancer

7:55 AM, Sep 8, 2011   |    comments
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Video: Faces of Childhood Cancer: Michala Hopkins

Video: Faces of Childhood Cancer: Lindsay Simmons

  • Lindsay Simmons: Blad and Beautiful. Watch her story Tuesday, Sept. 6th 6:00-6:30am on 11Alive Today.
  • Michala Hopkins: The Sound of Joy. Watch her story Wednesday, Spet. 7th 6:00-6:30am.
    

 

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  • CURE Childhood Cancer
  • ATLANTA -- Ten years ago, 10 percent of children with cancer suvived. Today, nearly 80 percent survive. September is National Childhood Cancer awareness month. 

    11Alive News has partnered with Atlanta-based CURE Childhood Cancer to bring you the faces of childhood cancer. 

    PHOTO GALLERY: CURE Faces of Childhood Cancer 
    (E-mail jwolfe@11alive.com to submit your photos)

    These are their stories. 

    Lindsay Simmons: Bald and Beautiful

    I first met Lindsay Simmons almost two years ago.

    "I just don't know how I got it or why." She told me in her first 11Alive interview.

    She was in remission, the honored hero in my first marathon raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

    Since then, she's inspired me to run five marathons. She took dance classes, turned 12, and met a boy at camp. Since then, her Leukemia came back.

    "It's kind of scary, but I can do it again," she said.

    She let the world know in a simple Facebook post: "My Leukemia is back."

    "I just thought they would want to know, and I'm not scared to tell people," she said.

    We caught up outside on her porch. On this summer day, while I was sweating, she was cold. "My stomach hurts. I feel sick a lot, and I'm usually not hungry," she said. "My mom says, well everybody says, that if I've gone through it once, then I can go through it again."

    Her second round with cancer is harder: harsher treatment, more side effects.

    "You can't show your emotion in front of your child, so most of the time it's crying in the shower or being really upset in your own time, but you have to show strength for your own child," Lindsay's mom, Sara said. "And you find the strength inside and you do what you have to do to fight for their life. That's what it is. It's a fight. "

    Lindsay doesn't like to look at recent photographs. A photographer took a series of pictures when she was at Camp Sunshine. It was right after her relapse had been diagnosed, but before chemotherapy began. It was before her hair fell out and medicines made her face puffy.

    In an interview full of brave statements, it was the only time her voice shook. "I cried because of how much the chemo made me lose my hair," she said. "And more hair came out this time than last time."

    Lindsay was supposed to starting middle school at E.T. Booth.

    "I really want to see my friends at school, but I can't," she said. Her treatment for cancer has lowered her immune levels so much; even a simple cold or stomach virus could land her back in the hospital.

    In a situation filled with medical and financial difficulties, the wish to see her friends is something simple 11Alive can do. With the cooperation of the Cherokee County School District and administrators at E.T. Booth, 11Alive taped messages from Lindsay's friends.

    Some were simple: "Hey, Lindsay, it's David. I just want to let you know we miss you and hope you'll get better."

    Others agonized over just the right words and read from notes: "Hey, it's Tiffany. I just have some words to say. Lindsay, keep moving forward and don't stop. You're a wonderful friend, and I believe in you and the wonderful things you can do. Get well and follow your dreams. You can do it."

    We delivered the DVD of wishes to Lindsay the next day. She was back in the hospital after her white blood cell counts plummeted. To keep the surprise, her mom told her I just had a few more questions. When we played the DVD and her friend's faces popped up, her huge smile brightened up the entire hospital room.

    "I love it!" she said. "It makes me feel good that some other people are there to help me too."

    Lindsay is a fighter. But even the strongest fighters need cheerleaders.

    Michala Hopkins: The Sound of Joy

    At the Hopkins house, the sound of joy SOUNDS different. Most days, you're greeted with the bam of a toy drum, clapping hands, and laughter.

    Kelli Hopkins holds Michala on her lap: "She likes to sing and hum with you." At the word, Michala starts a low hum. She suffers from a rare disease called Aicardi Syndrome.

    "She's missing her corpus collosum, the middle part of her brain," Kelli explains. It means she has seizures and has black spots in her field of vision. She doesn't speak, but Kelli says she communicates through her expressions, and of course, that drum.

    Three of the Hopkins' four children have special needs. "God placed these children in our lives for a special reason," she said.

    Mike and Kelli were prepared for those challenges. They were not prepared for cancer. Michala was born with a spot on her foot. Doctors first said it was just a birth mark.

    "Mike said, 'Do you think it was cancer?' And I said 'WHAT?! I'm going to slap you,' because I'm thinking, how do you say that out loud?"

    But it was cancer. And after two surgeries, a choice: her leg or her life. "So, it was an easy decision. Easier at that time, to say, OK, remove it," Kelli said. Years later, the parents passed Michala's oncologist in the hallway. He told them he really didn't think Michala would make it. "She's a fighter," both of her parents said.

    Right now, they are watching a spot on Michala's lungs, but they say she's doing well and constantly getting into trouble. 

    Mike recalls a time he was left home alone with the kids. Suddenly, it was a little too quiet. She found Michala in the dining room. "She climbed up in a chair and grabbed the chandelier and she was swinging back and forth and she couldn't decide if she wanted to stay or let go," he said with a laugh.

    That's the thing about the Hopkins family, when other people hear just noise, they hear joy.

    "As a parent with children that were non-verbal, you kind of long for the day to come in, and have them tell you they love you," Mike said. "And they just do it in a different way."

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