Addie’s Journey: Fighting cancer with a smile

Kicking cancer to the curb

This story was originally published on April 2, 2015 and has been updated.

It had been in high school, over 10 years ago, when I had last seen Angela Roberts. It wasn’t under the greatest circumstances that we reconnected, but she was still the same as I had remembered — a smile from ear to ear and the most positive and friendly person you could imagine.

Angela and I reunited at Norton Children’s Hospital. Her daughter, Addie, just 3 years old, was receiving treatment for pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I have been following her story through Facebook, family fundraisers and concerts, as well as the local news. This little girl has the ability to bring a smile to anyone’s face. You’d never know she has leukemia because of her outgoing, playful personality.

Addie was diagnosed on Sept. 23, 2013. A few days prior, she had been experiencing a high fever. Angela and her husband, Ben, took Addie to their local hospital’s emergency room and were sent home after hospital staff deemed Addie’s symptoms were caused by a virus. Two days later, Addie experienced severe ear pain and petechiae, small red or purple spots on the skin caused by minor hemorrhages, which prompted Angela to take her to their pediatrician. After that visit and a blood assessment, they were sent to Norton Children’s Hospital for further tests.

“Having been warned what the worst case could be from our pediatrician, you can only imagine what our thoughts were during that hour-long car ride to Norton Children’s Hospital,” Angela said.

Once at Norton Children’s Hospital in downtown Louisville, Angela and Ben stepped into the oncology unit, 7 West, with emotions in high gear as nurses gave Addie an IV and drew “what seemed like a gallon of blood from her arm,” Angela recalled.

“The experts said there were several bad infections that could cause Addie’s blood counts to be down the way they were,” Angela said. “But they also said leukemia patients produced the same blood counts when first diagnosed.”

This day turned into one of the worst days of Addie’s parents’ lives. Scott N. Myers, M.D., pediatric oncologist, and nursing staff met with Angela and Ben to deliver the news that turned their world upside down. The blood tests found cancer cells in Addie’s blood, but there was good news to report — the leukemia was in its early stages and Addie’s type has a survival rate of 85 to 90 percent.

“Hearing Addie’s diagnosis was like living in a nightmare,” Ben said. “Never in a million years would we have thought our family would be affected by childhood cancer.”

Currently, Angela and Ben consult with Dr. Myers, who practices with U of L Physicians – Pediatric Cancer & Blood Disorders, on a monthly basis while Addie receives chemotherapy treatments in Louisville.

“Pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia is essentially cancer of the white blood cells,” Dr. Myers said. “White blood cells are what control our immune system and are involved in defending the body against infectious disease.”

“We don’t evaluate leukemia in terms of stages. If you have it, you have it. It is not like breast cancer or colon cancer — the time of diagnosis is not really an issue. However, Addie’s treatment is going well and she has a very good prognosis to be cured.” Monica Gollar, R.N., BSN, has been caring for Addie since she was diagnosed.

“I am her primary nurse in the outpatient clinic and am responsible for administering her chemotherapy and other supportive treatments,” Gollar said. “Addie has really impressed me by taking all of the treatment with a beautiful smile on her face. Children in general are so resilient, but Addie exceeds most expectations with her bravery and ability to shine when she walks into a room. Her smile, personality and love of life radiate through the room and warm your heart.”

Aside from the negative impacts of Addie’s cancer, one positive Angela and Ben have gained from this experience is seeing Addie’s confidence and outgoing nature blossom.

Addie’s story and magnetic personality have even gained attention from the local media, and the community has come together for several fundraising events to support her treatment, including benefit concerts with country artists Gary Allan and Craig Morgan.

“We feel very honored and loved, but mostly humbled,” Ben said. “It’s hard to put into words how grateful we are for all of the prayers, support and love for Addie.”

Addie is the oldest of three children. Their family also includes 2-year-old Audrie and 7-month-old Allie.

“Taking care of three little ones really helps us keep our minds off things,” Angela said. “Daily, we try to stay focused on the positive and help Addie live life like a normal 3-year-old.”

Addie enjoys learning and interacting with classmates at preschool, going to the playground, swimming, dancing and singing to her favorite song, “Roar,” by Katy Perry.

I asked Angela and Ben what three words best describe Addie: “Inspiring, courageous and radiant — without a doubt. She is the happiest little girl you’ll ever meet!”

Update on Addie: September 2016

Addie finished her leukemia treatment on Dec. 4, 2015, and shortly after had surgery to remove her port so she could get back to being a normal kid again! Addie will return monthly for a checkup and CBC to check her blood counts, and after five years she will be considered cured.

Addie was diagnosed when she was only 2 years old, and a month after her final treatment she celebrated her 5th birthday and our family was blessed with our fourth daughter! Addie had an incredible summer free of chemo and hospital stays, she attended Camp Quality, traveled to Florida with her grandparents and spent a week in Ocean City, Maryland with her parents and three little sisters for an unbelievable vacation. Addie still loves to visit the children’s hospital to visit with her friends and favorite nurses and to offer support to other kids fighting the hardest fight of their life.

Addie just started kindergarten and is loving every second of it. She loves making new friends and she is so eager to learn. Addie’s contagious smile has only grown as she is experiencing a whole new life of freedom and pure fun instead of getting spinal taps, chemo or being admitted to the hospital any time she has a fever. We could never truly put into words the depth of our gratitude toward the children’s hospital for the care, strength, compassion and kindness they give Addie and our entire family. Let’s help our children’s hospital ”Go Gold” for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month!