This article appeared in The Herald-Sun in 2012:
By Wes Platt
BAHAMA – It shouldn’t be good news that an infection attacking Kailey Eaton’s body has diminished enough that she can resume chemotherapy.
She shouldn’t have to get her food through a tube.
She shouldn’t need to worry that the friends she wants to play with might have been sick in the last couple of days.
These aren’t the kinds of problems that should confront a little girl known to her grandparents as “Kailey Bear.” She should be playing with stuffed animals and giggling at Loopy, her silly hamster in his spinning wheel.
But it is the reality that the 6-year-old Mangum Elementary School student faces every day with her parents, Carey and Brian, since they discovered in March that she has acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Despite positive developments in the spring, her mother said, the first months of summer took a dark turn.
“She was doing better, she was in remission, but during June and July she got really sick,” Carey Eaton said on Tuesday as she sat on a patio outside the school with Kailey in her lap. “She spent a month in Duke Medical Center with an infection. It hit everything except her brain. There was a lot of concern she wouldn’t survive.”
Her body’s decimated immune system leaves her vulnerable to such illnesses. Doctors battled the infection with several drugs. While the infection didn’t go away, it relented enough to allow Kailey to go home for a little while.
“The doctors were extremely pleased and blown away by how much better she got,” Carey said. “Nobody anticipated that we could leave the hospital. To be able to survive that and come through the other side, it’s astonishing. The fact we could bring her home is testament, I believe, to the skill of the doctors and the power of prayer.”
On Friday, though, Kailey returns to the hospital for a few more days as doctors get her back on chemotherapy.
“She’s not a big fan of being in the hospital,” Carey said. “Chemotherapy’s not pleasant, but the fact that the infection is down and we can take her in for this, believe me, it’s good news for us.”
As much as Kailey may dislike the hospital, she gets along well with the nurses, aides and especially the chief of pediatric hematology-oncology, Daniel Wechsler, with whom she has developed a special language – “hamster speak” – that only they really understand.
“Squeak squeak SQUEAK squeak,” Kailey interjects by way of example. She’s generally shy around new people, but smiles as she gets the chance to show off her inventive language skills.
“I know that a short squeak means yes and a long squeak means no,” Carey said, “but Dr. Wechsler knows all the nuances a lot better than we do.”
The first day of school at Mangum is just a few weeks off, but it doesn’t seem likely that Kailey will get to join her classmates any time soon. She’ll get educational help from the Hospital School and, if possible, she may be paired with a Mangum class in January and work in tandem with them, if not in the same room.
The stress and strain take their toll on Carey, a cheerleading coach for Riverside High School, and Brian, a firefighter. But they look for ways to keep sane and healthy.
“I’ve been staying active with cheerleading, which always helps,” Carey said. “Brian stays active with the fire department and works on trucks and cars. He plays paintball with his friends.”
They’re also finding support from the community, which held several fundraisers and helped supply Kailey with an iPad so that she could interact with friends in school using a Skype application.
That support continues this week. On Thursday, Pizza Inn at 3906 N. Duke St. will donate a portion of dine-in and take-out purchases to the Eaton family. The restaurant will also have a jar for cash donations.
Around the corner, plans are in the works for a benefit golf tournament and a spaghetti dinner by the Bahama Fire Department.
“I don’t know if I can find the words to express how thankful, humbled and amazed at the way the community has come together for us,” Carey said. “It’s one of those things that I could have lived my whole life without knowing, but now that I do see how people will do anything to help us, I am so appreciative.”