By: Janis Bennett
When Lexi ran through the crisp autumn leaves in her Wonder Woman costume, complete with a blue tutu featuring sparkly silver stars, there was no doubt that this photo shoot was going to be a lot of fun. She's a beautiful little spit-fire with the heart of a warrior. Lexi is always smiling, loves to play like most toddlers, yet her eyes have a depth that makes you think she has a wise soul that has experienced more than most 3-year-olds should have to.
Michelle Cramer, OAW President, has been lucky enough to photograph Lexi since she was a newborn. She remembers a particular day, back in August of 2013, when Lexi wasn't feeling well during her 18 month photo shoot. She caught a cold and wasn't getting over it. It was hard to get a smile out of the normally chipper, bouncy little girl. Then, in November 2013, she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
Leukemia is cancer that starts in the bone marrow and other blood-forming tissue. It causes large numbers of abnormal white blood cells, called leukemia cells and leukemic blast cells, to replicate rapidly and enter the bloodstream. These abnormal white blood cells crowd out normal blood cells because they don't die when they become damaged or old, which is what normal white blood cells do. The lower the number of normal white blood cells in the body, the harder it is for the body to fight infections, control bleeding, and get oxygen to tissues. Leukemia cells can spread to other organs, including the spleen, lymph nodes, and brain.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, known as ALL for short, is the most common type of cancer in children. This is what Lexi has. Acute means that it develops quickly and the cancer cells increase rapidly. Patients with acute leukemia often feel very tired, get infections, and bruise easily. Lymphoblastic means the leukemia started in the lymphoid cells. These cancerous cells usually collect in the blood and bone marrow.
Brooklynn, another little Wonder Woman and OAW recipient, also has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. She was diagnosed on April 16, 2012, at the age of 3. She fought hard, and it paid off. As of June 12, 2012, Brooklynn is cancer-free! Though she had to continue chemotherapy for more than two years, OAW is happy to report that Brooklynn finished her last chemo treatment on December 29, 2014!
There are so many ups and downs that come along with this horrible disease. The things that the kids and their families endure is beyond words. For example, Brooklynn had a rare side-effect from a chemo drug that caused a reverse flow of her liver. This was so rare that St. Jude has only seen this happen one other time. She had to be put on a breathing machine and was in a medically induced coma for 10 days. With a lot of prayers and blessings, and her Wonder Woman strength, she pulled through! Today, Brooklynn is a student in public school for the first time!
A little star-light named Jasmine also received a free photo-shoot from OAW. She is another mini-Wonder Woman who battled Leukemia, though you'd never know it when you look at her bright eyes and huge smile. She has been in remission for a while now, thank the Lord! Her thirst for life can be seen in every picture.
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 5,000 children were diagnosed with leukemia in 2013. While not all cases result in a tragedy, America has a long way to go before we eliminate this horrible disease.
For those of you who have a child with cancer, or know someone who does, we hope Lexi, Brooklynn, and Jasmine's stories give you at least an ounce of peace and hope for a happy future. They are all pint-sized Wonder Women, and your little one can be just like Wonder Woman too. And always remember that OAW is here to help and support you in your greatest time of need.