The Sun-Times is helping the Smyrna School District staff and students raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer with 'Be Bold, Go Gold' student spotlight stories. This week's story focuses on 10-year-old Kate McKinery.
Kate McKinery said cancer “makes me feel different in good ways and bad ways.”
The 10-year-old Smyrna student said she’s gotten to do a lot of fun activities like Kay’s Kamp, Runway for Research and the B+ (Be Positive) Foundation’s Hero program in which she’s been “adopted” by a sorority at the University of Delaware.
However, she’s a little self-conscious about her small size, problems with her left eye, and her thin, slowly-growing hair.
She said the most difficult parts have been “being at the hospital a lot, missing school and having to catch up on work.”
When she was just over a year old in January 2010, Kate’s parents noticed an involuntary movement of her left eye that seemed to get worse when she was tired.
The family doctor referred her to an eye specialist at Nemours/A.I. du Pont Children’s Hospital. During an MRI, a tumor was discovered behind her eyes encasing optic nerves and pressing on her hypothalamus and pituitary glands.
“Kate doesn't remember not having cancer,” said her mother, Amber McKinery.
Kate has vision loss in her left eye and peripheral vision loss in both eyes. Due to the pressure on the glands, she also has growth hormone deficiency.
Through her childhood, Kate’s treatments have included chemotherapy and a vascular inhibitor to block the flow of blood to the tumor. She also dealt with neuropathy, a loss of feeling, which led to stunted ranges of motion, but she went through physical therapy and took up dance to regain a full range of motion.
“Almost her entire school career she has had to take a day every two weeks to have her medicine infused through a port in her chest,” said Amber. “The tumor cycles through periods of no activity then growth. Since we never know when it will start growing again, it is a waiting game that is always in the back of our minds.”
Kate finished her latest vascular inhibitor treatment on July 12 and received some good news.
“Her most recent MRI shows that the tumor is stable, and she had her infusion port removed,” said Amber.
This summer Kate traveled to the Grand Canyon and Colorado with her parents and younger brother Tyson, 5, and had a great time hiking and visiting historical sites along with seeing a rodeo.
“Kate loves reading and learning and had straight A's last year,” said Amber. “She has started fifth grade and this is the first time she doesn't have to worry about missing a day of school every other week. She will continue to have MRIs every three months to check on the tumor. As long as it and her vision remain stable she will not need treatment.”
Amber said the “Be Bold, Go Gold” events in Smyrna schools are a big help in raising awareness about childhood cancer and the need for research.
“Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children and research is sadly underfunded,” said Amber. “This community has stepped up to support current and past students, along with highlighting how prevalent this disease is.”
Kate said she’s gotten through the tough times with support from her friends and family, especially her mother.
“My mom helps me. She inspires me to move forward,” said Kate. “Even if I don't like what is coming ahead, I know it will help me.”
Kate and Amber said the nurses and doctors at Nemours/A.I. du Pont have been wonderful.
“They make her feel comfortable and have become extended family,” said Amber. “They have allowed her to express her feelings and give input on her treatment plan, so she can have the sense of some control of her condition.”
Kate said the "Be Bold, Go Gold" campaign is important “because it raises awareness about childhood cancer and that there are kids out here that don't get to live a normal life. They raise money for B+ and Kay’s Kamp and it helps kids with cancer get treatment and have fun.”
She said she can tell her condition is improving.
“I am lucky that I can do most things any other kid can do,” she said. “I'm feeling stronger, because I know I've been through one of the hardest things life can give you.”
How to help: ‘Be Bold, Go Gold’ fundraisers
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month, symbolized by a gold ribbon. The Smyrna High School Letterman’s Club has already hosted “Be Bold, Go Gold” fundraisers this month and has more planned in which the public can participate, including some that stretch into October.
Here are the upcoming events:
Sept. 26 – Smyrna High School volleyball game, 5 p.m.
Sept. 28 – District-wide day of yellow and gold for childhood cancer awareness. Schools will encourage students and staff to wear yellow or gold.
Oct. 1 – Smyrna High junior varsity football game, 4 p.m.
Oct. 3 – Smyrna High freshman football game, 4 p.m.
Oct. 5 – Smyrna High varsity football game, 7 p.m.
At the games, donations will be accepted and a variety of gold-colored items will be on sale to support the cause. The Letterman’s Club is also planning bake sales at some games.