Emily Whitehead, THON Appreciation

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What did you ask for this past Christmas? An iPad, new laptop, a new pair of shoes? This past Christmas, Emily Whitehead would have rather spent her time in the hospital undergoing her bone marrow and stem cell transplant after her relapse, than risk missing THON 2012.

“We would rather lose those holidays than THON,” Emily’s father, said.

Emily is a 6-year-old fighting to beat acute lymphoblastic leukemia, an aggressive and rare form of cancer. Emily was diagnosed on May 28, 2010. Within the first week of being at Hershey Medical Center, the staff informed Emily’s parents, Thomas and Kari Whitehead, about the Four Diamonds Fund and they have been involved ever since.

Originally, Emily was only supposed to have 27 months of treatment; however, she relapsed while still being treated on October 7, 2010. At that time, Emily was a high-risk patient and needed a bone marrow transplant. But two weeks ago on February 4, 2012, Emily relapsed again. During routine blood work, it was discovered that Emily’s white blood count was 115,000 while a normal range is anywhere between 4,500 and 13,500.

The doctors told the Whiteheads that it is very rare for anyone to relapse during treatment and also rare to see a patient, who had responded so well to chemo, relapse so quickly.

The doctors told the Whiteheads that there was no protocol. So doctors came up with a new regimen of chemotherapy, heavier than she had ever had before, in hopes that it would kill the cancer, but there was no guarantee that it would successfully bring the white blood count down. But as of Friday, Emily’s white blood count went down to 200; although she has barely any immune system, the cancer cells have died.

Emily went from having 85 percent of the cells in her blood being cancerous two weeks ago, to having none of them cancerous as of Friday. Emily also started a new round of chemo Friday and it was the first day that they had not found any cancer cells. Her stem cell and bone marrow transplant is now scheduled for March 20, 2012.

Emily’s sponsored organization is the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) at Penn State. “Her best morale days are when she’s getting her visitors from THON,” Thomas Whitehead said. “We have our own family and then we have our THON family.”

The Whiteheads considered transferring to Philadelphia, PA but after a lot of consideration, they decided it was too far away from family and THON support.

Emily will not be able to attend THON this year but the Whiteheads have a message for all those participating in THON this weekend: “Thanks for everything. We want to express thanks to our organization [PRSSA] for all the money that kept us going with paying the bills that we can’t pay and also to all our connections with people involved with THON – it is priceless.”

Thomas Whitehead also noted that one of Emily’s oncologists, Dr. James Powell of Mount Nittany Physician Group, danced at THON his senior year at Penn State and it inspired him to become a pediatric oncologist.

If you would like to follow Emily’s journey you can follow her blog or find her on Facebook.

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