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Kindness carries family through a devastating diagnosis

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AYER — Abby Laine was five years old when she was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

Abby is big sister to Caroline and has a younger brother, Michael. Her parents are Kelley and John Laine of Lunenburg.

According to the National Cancer Institute, ALL is a cancer of the white blood cells, the cells in the body that normally fight infections. ALL affects the lymphoid cells. Leukemia cells are abnormal cells that cannot do what normal blood cells do. The abnormal cells are immature white blood cells that cannot help the body fight infections. For this reason children with ALL often get infections and fevers. ALL is the most common cancer found in children representing 23 percent of cancer diagnoses among children under 15, one in 29,000 children in the United States. The improvement in survival for children with ALL over the past 35 years is one of the greatest success stories of cancer treatment. In the 1960’s less than five percent of children with ALL survived more than five years. Today, about 85 percent of children with ALL live 5 years or more.

Sitting down with mom, Kelly Laine, I asked her what the last three years have been like.

“Today I called out sick from work because my daughter Abby has a fever. This in itself is a ‘normal’ or ‘typical’ occurrence for any parent and it happens from time to time. The difference for me is that today is the first time in almost three years that I have called out sick from work because of a ‘normal’ childhood illness; not because my children were healthy for three years but because my oldest child, Abby, was diagnosed with leukemia.

“Every time her fever passed 100.9, we were ER bound to UMass Medical Center in Worcester,” said Kelly. “I honestly have no idea how many times we went to the ER or how many times Abby got her labs drawn or her port accessed.

“I do recall,” she continued, “how many times she lost her hair and how many times she had a dark masked grayness around her eyes. I recall how green her skin was in the beginning and how the steroids took her personality. I recall the beeping of the oxygen saturation monitor whenever it was low during one of Abby’s hospitalizations and how terrified I was that she would go into respiratory arrest. I even heard the words ‘code blue’ in my head.”

Laine said she wondered how she was possibly going to take care of her 3-year-old daughter Carolyn at that time and her yet-to-be-born son Michael when faced with Abby’s diagnosis. She remembered how distorted Abby’s body and face became and how she never knew why she was feeling the way she was feeling.

“I think of family and friends not knowing what to do or say or how to help and many sleepless nights and moments of curling up in ball on the floor crying,” she said. “I started to forget what Abby looked like and I felt robbed of my newborn Michael’s first few months of life and the ‘happiness’ that my family lost during all of this. I felt and still feel enormously guilty about my middle child, Carolyn’s place literally in the ‘middle’ of everything.”

The Laine family had amazing support from family, friends, and coworkers during Abby’s treatment.

“I recall how happy my daughters were when they were surprised one morning to have our lawn decorated with flamingos,” said Kelly. “We woke up one morning before Thanksgiving to see a landscaping company cleaning the leaves from our yard and that they wouldn’t tell us who hired them. We would come home to warm meals left on our doorstep and piles of cards, crafts, and activities for Abby to do in the hospital.

“There were many fundraisers that allowed me to stay home and care for my daughter during the most difficult times and the endless, selfless, contributions that came in so many different forms,” she said. “We received prayers, cards, songs, kind words, monetary, gifts, books of inspiration, phone calls. Amazing random acts of kindness fell upon us and we learned that there is so much good in people. Friends and family took ‘shifts’ at the hospital so Abby was never alone.”

The Laine family was given an amazing trip to Disney World with the Make-a-Wish Foundation and Give Kids the World. “We were treated like VIPs and strangers reached out to our family just because they cared.”

Abby received all her treatment at UMass Medical Center in Worcester. “I recall the comfort of trusting the medical staff at UMass to help us to make the right decisions every step along the way and hearing the results of Abby’s end of treatment bone marrow biopsy. All I asked for was a ‘thumb’s up’ and that’s exactly what the doctor provided. I remember waiting in the waiting area when Abby had her port removed and how it felt the first time I looked at her and saw her as my little girl again and not as a sick child.

“I learned so many things about myself and others during this experience but the biggest thing I walk away with is ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff.’

“Life is too precious,” she said, “and time is too important. Random acts of kindness are truly the best way to make yourself and others feel good. It is so contagious.”