Through My Eyes: Supporting a Granddaughter who has Fought Cancer 3 Times
Written by Rachel Wood (Marketing Director), Kelly Handley (Cancer Mom) & Cheryl Haynes (Cancer Grandmother)
“Through My Eyes” is a series in which those affected by childhood cancer share a behind-the-scenes look into the ripple effect cancer has in their lives. Our goal is to raise $50,000 for rare pediatric cancer research in the month of September. Become aware, give monthly or donate. [Presented by Atrium Health Levine Children’s]
- Perspective: Cancer Mom & Grandmother
- Name: Kelly Handley (mom) & Cheryl Haynes (grandma)
- Daughter: Lillie, 7 years old
- Cancer: Stage 3 Intermediate Risk Neuroblastoma
- Diagnosed: May 2016 at 3 years old
- Treated at: Birmingham Children’s, Helen Devos Children’s Hospital, and now Atrium Health Levine Children’s
Only 7 years old & beat cancer 3 times:
“In May 2016 the entire family had a stomach virus and then it hit Lillie. We had to take her to the ER thinking she needed fluids and the doctor on call wanted to do an X-ray to rule out appendicitis. Instead of what was thought to be a stomach bug, a mass was found. A week later she was diagnosed with stage 3 neuroblastoma at 3 years old. I’m actually thankful for that ER doctor, the cancer was localized and I’m not sure how long it would have been before we noticed symptoms from the cancer.
Lillie began chemo for 6 cycles, followed by a single stem cell transplant. She was then cancer free. One year later she relapsed. More chemo, antibody therapy along with 20 rounds of radiation. The radiation was very hard on Lillie, making her very sick and very tired. She was in remission for about 7-9 months. For a 2nd time, Lillie relapsed last May, and we were told by our treating hospital there wasn’t anything else they could do for Lillie. We were devastated.
We had heard nothing but the best about Dr. Sholler out of Michigan. I reached out and spoke to Dr. Sholler on a Thursday, and she wanted us to be in Michigan the very next Monday. We have been with her ever since. She has done so much for Lillie in the past year, we are more than thankful. We would follow her anywhere and now we are doing just that to continue Lillie’s care in Charlotte at Levine Children’s now that she is there.”
Lillie has relapsed twice and has had neuroblastoma above her right kidney, in her right adrenal gland, in her abdomen, close to her spine/hips and in her bone marrow. Lillie is now 7 years old and has beat cancer 3 times! She has traveled from Alabama to Michigan and now will continue her care in Charlotte at Levine Children’s. Her last scans in August were clean; however, a few suspicious spots were found in her bone marrow. Lillie wants to be a gymnast and ballerina when she grows up.
Neuroblastoma is a solid tumor cancer that arises in immature nerve cells and strikes primarily in infants and children.
A Grandma’s love:
“You never really think it could happen to your child until it does. It doesn’t only affect your child, but your entire family and way of life as you know it. Lillie was almost 3.5 years old at diagnosis and we had twin boys that were almost 1.5. Since we have to travel for treatments, one of the biggest obstacles and hardest things is leaving the twin boys behind when Lillie and I are gone. The twins are now 5, and some days they understand a little better when we have to leave, but still uncertain as to when we will be home. One of the boys has autism, so that’s been an even bigger challenge.
My mom has been a blessing to us throughout this journey. She helps with the boys when my husband Jon is with Lillie and me, and travels with us on trips when Jon is home working and taking care of the boys. It means so much to have a caring Mom and “MeMe” for my kids to help us go through this. It is hard on any family going through cancer, but it’s been a huge blessing for us to have all the extra help that we have been fortunate to have.”
Why her and not me:
“Being “MeMe” to my grandchildren is the greatest blessing. When one of your loved ones receives a cancer diagnosis, especially your three-year-old grandchild, it is a life changing and terrifying ordeal to go through. To see your daughter going through this battle is heartbreaking. With all the surgeries, ports, needle sticks, chemo, radiation, scans, bone marrows, feeding tubes, transplant, medications, lots of doctor appointments and an uncertain future. It is scary and it is emotional, but without God, my husband, family, church family and co-workers this journey would be unbearable. I felt why her and not me.”
“Lillie has always loved princesses. She asked when she felt better could she have a princess party. I promised her that MeMe and Pops would throw her one as an annual event if possible. So, in 2018 when Lillie went into remission we planned a “Princess Lillie” princess party. I am blessed to work with a Christian practice who has prayed for Lillie and loves her like their own. The party was held at my office, everyone was so sweet to participate. We had every princess present you can imagine, and MeMe as her Fairy Godmother. The red carpet was rolled out as her horse and carriage ride brought her to the door. The excitement on her little face and the smile of joy is a memory I will never forget. To see our little girl who had gone through so much to finally be a part of something so amazing with her own Prince Charming to escort her. To celebrate her being in remission, we had balloon release at the end of the party. What a celebration it was!
Since I promised Lillie this would be an annual event, in 2019 we made “Princess Lillie” princess party happen again. At this time Lillie began having pain in her legs and by the next week was not able to walk without pushing a stroller and dragging her leg. The cancer had come back and this is when God opened the door for us to take Lillie to Michigan to see Dr. Sholler. What a God-send. Dr. Sholler is such a blessing and an amazing doctor. Lillie loves her so much and so do we.
On September 19th we did it again for the 3rd year in a row… “Lillie’s Princess Party” during a pandemic! The party was different as everyone wore masks. Lillie said it was her masquerade princess party! We were very honored this year as Dr. Sholler came all the way to Alabama to attend. Lillie was so excited to introduce her as her favorite doctor and take a carriage ride in the county.
We look forward to these princess parties as much as Lillie does…. She is our Hero”
Lillie is brave, kind, energetic, funny, outgoing, and a joy be to be around. She fills a room with love and happiness. Lillie will travel to Charlotte for scans at Levine Children’s in November. The questionable spots in her bone marrow will be assessed during this time. For now Lillie is doing well, keeps smiling even on the hard days and living life!
*Photos courtesy of Kelly, Lillie’s mom. Photos were taken before the coronavirus pandemic and may not reflect current health and safety policies.
*** THROUGH MY EYES: THIS IS CHILDHOOD CANCER SERIES