‘Cancer, I’m gonna beat you again in the blink of your evil eye’
On a recent afternoon, 8-year-old Mary Evelyn King piled all her stuffed animals together on the floor of her room. Then she covered them with a blanket so they wouldn’t see what was coming next.
Taking a perch high on her bed, Mary Evelyn leapt in the air, landing on the pile with a cackle of high-pitched laughter.
For someone who’s such an active child, and has such a heartwarming smile, it’s hard to imagine that Mary Evelyn has cancer ravaging the inside of her body. The neuroblastoma that has struck her attacks the nerves through the spinal cord.
While her hair is starting to grow back from the latest round of chemotherapy and radiation, a recent scan has showed the neuroblastoma has failed to retreat from her body.
Yet it also has failed to advance further, her mother Edna said. That positive outlook is a byproduct of Mary Evelyn’s positive attitude.
Minutes after she was informed the neuroblastoma was back, Mary Evelyn was making herself a snack when Edna walked into the kitchen of the family’s Fayetteville home.
“She says, ‘Mom, I’ve been talking to my cancer,’” Edna recalled. “I thought, oh, this is going to be good. And she says ‘I told it, cancer, I’ve beat you once and I’m gonna beat you again in the blink of your evil eye.’”
Though she’s just in second grade, it’s hard not to believe Mary Evelyn on this point. Especially after all she went through the first time, and given how well she seems to be doing after more treatments this year.
Mary Evelyn was originally diagnosed with neuroblastoma in June 2005 and had surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to remove the tumor, preceded and followed by several rounds of chemotherapy to beat back the tumors.
There were also stem cell harvesting and transplant operations, bone marrow transplants, and radiation treatments.
Then Mary Evelyn got better and she returned to kindergarten at St. Andrews in Peachtree City. There were no more treatments, no more drugs and life was returning to normal, as Edna King recalled.
It appeared that could be the last of Mary Evelyn’s neuroblastoma. Late last year, Mary Evelyn started to develop severe fatigue and pain in her legs, making walking difficult.
“It was about December that her legs really started to hurt,” Edna King recalled, noting that the pain was so excruciating at one point Mary Evelyn was rushed to the emergency room.
Though it took a while to be detected, the family learned in January that Mary Evelyn’s neuroblastoma had returned. Since then there has been more aggressive chemotherapy and stem cell transplants using cells that were harvested in advance from Mary Evelyn herself. And more radiation, and, at times, more pain than Edna had ever imagined seeing her daughter in.
While the latest round of treatments have failed to force the neuroblastoma cells into retreat, the family is buoyed by hope, a faith in the loving arms of God and an incredible amount of support from the local community.
The Glamorama beauty shop in Fayetteville recently held a “Cuts for a Cure” fundraiser for Mary Evelyn and the national NANT organization which advocates “New Approaches to Neuroblastoma Therapy.”
Two weeks ago, a surprise party was held for Mary Evelyn at Fayetteville’s Village Cafe in which she was showered with gifts of jewelry donated by Town Square Jewelers, a charm bracelet from Smith and Davis Clothing, a Mickey Mouse collectible from Collector’s Corner and an iPod shuffle from the Best Buy in Peachtree City.
But the big surprise was an all-expenses paid vacation to Disney World in Orlando. In addition to raising hundreds of dollars for the trip, friends also secured the hotel stay courtesy of the Dolphin and Swan resort at Disney World and airfare from Delta Airlines. The family also got VIP treatment at the airport and at the Dolphin and Swan, which picked the family up at the airport in a limousine.
“The community has been amazing,” said Mary Evelyn’s mother, Edna. “I cannot believe what all the community has been doing for her.” A trip to Disney will mean so much more for Mary Evelyn and her family, as the survivability rate for those with neuroblastoma is very low.
Despite those long odds, the King family is pressing forward and consulting with doctors to determine the next course of action, with the potential of some promising or groundbreaking medical trials ahead.
After all, Mary Evelyn has come so far since her original diagnosis. She is enrolled at Peeples Elementary so she can participate in the school’s special program for hearing impaired students. Sometimes she rides the schoolbus, sometimes mom takes her.
Mary Evelyn has friends in the neighborhood, one of whom recently admitted to being jealous that Mary Evelyn could change her hair so easily just by picking a different wig to wear.
In so many ways, Mary Evelyn is having the best “normal” childhood her family can give her.
Mary Evelyn hopes to be a chef one day. In the meantime, she settles for doing a “cooking show” with her mother on occasion. She’s already made her family dinner, all on her own: chef salads.
“I am just loving this age,” Edna King said.
Mary Evelyn also has social graces beyond those of most second graders, recently making a snack tray of cheese, crackers and grapes for a visitor. Most of all, Mary Evelyn brings her wide smile, laughter and sense of humor to the table.
At one recent trip to Children’s Hospital of Atlanta, where Mary Evelyn has been treated since day one of her diagnosis, the doctor noted that a trace of chicken pox would result in a delay in treatment.
Mary Evelyn later would lighten the mood by referring to the doctor as “a jackpot of bad news!”
And while Mary Evelyn’s smile may not be able to cure her cancer, it can put at ease any visitor who might be hesitant to get to know her. It can brighten a classmate’s day. And it sure can help the family get through another day, another glorious day, of a very normal second-grader’s life.
— A fund has been established to assist the family with ongoing medical expenses and the like. Donations may be made at any Regions Bank to the Mary Evelyn King cancer fund.