Rare Cancer Diagnosis in Young Girl Inspires Team of Runners
Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah team raises cancer research funds
‘One in three’ is a phrase reserved for sports teams, stock prices or the roll of the dice. But when it refers to a rare cancer diagnosis – one where yours is one of only three known cases in the country, and 10 in the world – odds are your doctors will have a very difficult time treating you. Such is the case for 10-year-old Callie Lee, a 5th grader from Monroe, GA who has inspired her family and a team of marathon runners to raise money to fund cancer research, including these exceptionally rare types of lymphoma and leukemia. Her Aunt Wesley and Uncle Larry Wilson of Bloomingdale are part of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team-in-Training. They will run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon, set for November 9th.
The Wilsons began running with the Savannah team last year, well before their niece’s diagnosis, and have each completed a full marathon and a half-marathon. The fundraising they do for LLS, and the inspiring talks they have with other runners really hit home when Callie got sick. This is their third season with the team, and they expect Callie and her family to be cheering for them at the finish line in Savannah.
Their niece Callie was diagnosed with lymphoma in April. “Her eye had been swollen for two months,” her mother, Cyndie Lee said. “We thought it was a sty or an allergic reaction, but it would not go away. We saw multiple doctors and it was finally suggested to have a biopsy of the swollen tissue. That’s when we found out it was T-cell lymphoma. No one in the family has a history of cancer, so it came as a complete surprise,” she said.
While t-cell lymphoma is not unusual, Callie’s case is very rare. There are only three cases like hers in the country, and samples of her tissue were sent to the National Institutes of Health.
After Callie was diagnosed, her aunt recalls, “She went through rigorous testing of her bone marrow, lymph nodes and spinal fluid. She began treatment on my birthday, April 17th, and received six weeks of chemotherapy. She lost her beautiful blonde hair, but her smile is just as bright as it always was. She’s healthy enough to be in school, and all of us are just amazed at how well she is doing.”
Right now Callie is in a “holding pattern” as her mother Cyndie calls it; there are still cancer cells in her body – but no new growth. The next step is to try to find a bone marrow donor; the family hopes Callie’s 15 year old brother, Tylan, will be a match. In the meantime, Callie is in school, on the twirl team, has started chorus, and is enjoying, as her mom puts it, “just being a fifth-grader.”
“The situation that delivered us to this place in life is not one that we asked for,” Callie’s father Foster Lee said. “But, it truly is a blessing to have the opportunity to experience the beautiful side of people through supportive family, friends, church and community!”
Each year, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team In Training runners raise millions toward cancer research and patient services. Participants receive four to five months of training with a supportive group of teammates under the guidance of a certified coach, and clinics on nutrition, injury prevention, gear and other essentials to prepare for the race. In return, they will raise money to find new and better therapies for leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, and support services to help improve patients’ lives.
Currently, the LLS Georgia Chapter funds $2.75 million in research grants with Emory Winship Cancer Institute. There were approximately 4,070 new diagnoses for blood cancer in Georgia in 2012.
To sign up with the team, contact The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Jennie Brewster at 912-484-2582. Visit www.lls.org/ga.
Savannah, GA, Nov. 4, 2013