Today’s post was written and submitted by Carisa Bishop, author of The Happy Single Mother.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They are different races, different genders and come from different countries. They are also different ages. Today’s hero happens to be just 7 years old. Her name is Kayleigh McCabe, and in her short seven years she has overcome more obstacles than most will encounter in a lifetime. Not only has Kayleigh overcome those obstacles, but her perseverance, generosity, strength and bright spirit have inspired countless numbers of people.
On January 10, 2008, Kayleigh was diagnosed with a rare and serious form of liver cancer called hepatoblastoma. The cancer had already reached an advanced stage when it was discovered, and Kayleigh’s only chance was to undergo several rounds of chemotherapy and receive a liver transplant as soon as a donor liver became available. Kayleigh had always been a vivacious, energetic child: Her diagnosis came as a shock to all who knew and loved her.
Kayleigh began chemotherapy immediately, and it became obvious that her strong-willed spirit was going to help carry her through. This was not a child who would give in and give up. This was a child who would fight, and fight hard. And the miracle of it all is that her light wasn’t dimmed by the fight, but shone brighter than ever!
Kayleigh received round after round of chemotherapy, and suffered many of the unpleasant side effects associated with the toxic medications. Her mother, Corinne, worried how Kayleigh would react to the loss of her beautiful long brown hair. She wept as she began to find clumps of her daughter’s hair on the pillow each morning. But Corinne needn’t have worried. When Kayleigh realized her hair was nearly gone, she excitedly told her mother it was time to go wig and hat shopping!
Kayleigh’s weight was also being affected by the chemotherapy, which regularly caused her to lose her appetite. Her doctors elected to give Kayleigh a nasogastric (NG) tube, which would allow her parents to pump liquid nutrients into Kayleigh’s stomach. Though Kayleigh found the placement of the NG tube uncomfortable, she quickly adapted and used her imagination to make this new mode of eating fun. One day at preschool, another child asked what Kayleigh was eating through her tube for lunch. Kayleigh enthusiastically replied “I can pretend its anything I want it to be! Right now I’m eating a big cheeseburger, then I’ll have french fries, and maybe a milkshake after!” Kayleigh’s unflagging optimism while facing such adversity inspired everyone around her. Her teachers, parents, friends and relatives were all in awe of this little girl who was quickly proving that miracles are possible.
And then on March 15, 2008, during Kayleigh’s 3rd cycle of chemo, the call came. The call. There was a donor liver, it was a match, and Kayleigh needed to be brought to the hospital immediately. Her parents rushed her in and spent the next few hours loving on their baby girl and waiting for the LifeFlight helicopter to arrive with her liver. At 7AM everything was in place. Her parents brought a sleeping Kayleigh to the operating room and sat down to wait.
Kayleigh’s parents received updates from the OR every hour and a half, and all were good. At 1PM the surgery was over, 4 hours earlier than the surgeons had anticipated. Her parents were led into her room and were greeted by a surprisingly awake and alert child: Kayleigh had not just made it, but had done miraculously well! Over the next several weeks, Kayleigh and her new liver got to know each other. A few weeks after surgery, Kayleigh’s chemotherapy began again. Though this round of chemotherapy was more difficult due to the addition of anti-rejection immunosuppressant medications, there was, at last, an end in sight.
Finally, on June 5, 2008, Kayleigh finished her 6th and final round of chemotherapy. An ultrasound and bloodwork confirmed the miraculous news….Kayleigh was cancer free! Though she was still on a cocktail of anti-rejection medications, Kayleigh slowly but surely began returning to “normal” life. It was around this time that Kayleigh and her family became involved with the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC). This annual bike-a-thon across the state of Massachusetts raises a significant amount of money for the Jimmy Fund, where Kayleigh received her treatments. Cyclists ride anywhere from 25-190 miles over the course of two days, and often riders form teams and ride in honor of someone battling cancer. During the 2008 Pan-Mass Challenge, Team LEGS (Legs Ending Great Suffering) rode in honor of Kayleigh.
The McCabe family was both touched and inspired by this gesture, and realized the PMC could be the perfect way for them to give back to the institute that saved Kayleigh’s life. Corinne joined Team LEGS and began training in 2009 for a 157 mile ride in August. Wanting to be involved as well, Kayleigh’s older brother Michael sought out a PMC Kids Ride in a nearby town and rode 15 miles in honor of his sister. Kayleigh soon began asking if she could participate in a ride too.
Realizing how much this tangible act of giving back meant to their daughter, Corinne and her husband Pat took on the task of organizing a PMC Kids Ride in their home town of Westborough. Arranging logistics, getting the word out and securing a facility for the event were no easy tasks, but finally on May 31, 2009 the first annual Westborough PMC Kids Ride took place. Children ages 3-13 came to participate and to everyone’s astonishment, raised over $13,000 in one day to fund cancer research and treatment at the Jimmy Fund.
Since the beginning of their involvement with the PMC, Corinne has twice done a 157 mile ride, Michael has participated in 3 PMC Kids Rides, Kayleigh in 2, and Pat volunteers at all of their events. Since its start in 2009, the Westborough PMC Kids Ride has raised over $20,000, 100% of which goes directly to the Jimmy Fund. Kayleigh was also invited to participate in PMC Day at Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. Along with other PMC participants, she rode her bike around the field in front of the packed stands, embodying the overarching goal of the PMC: To help all those who suffer from cancer, and to find a cure.
Kayleigh is now a bright and energetic second grader, and her cancer is currently in remission. She continues to inspire those around her through her story of courage and hope. She and Michael will be participating in the 3rd annual Westborough PMC Kids Ride in May, and Corinne will again be riding in the PMC this August.
There are two other heroes involved in this story, and I think it would be remiss not to mention them. Somewhere there are two parents who, in a moment of unspeakable grief and sorrow, chose to selflessly give life to another child in the face of the loss of their own. The McCabe family will never know who donated Kayleigh’s liver, but they are forever thankful for the miraculous second chance their daughter was given.
A big thanks to Kayleigh and her parents for letting her story be shared on Single Dad Laughing. Also, thanks to Carisa Bishop for writing this post and guest blogging today!
Kayleigh is a perfect candidate for a Saturday’s Hero, and it has been my pleasure and honor to put the spotlight on her for the day.
PS. You don’t have to have a blog to participate. You can just be a passionate person/writer. It’s all good to me!