These are our good friends, Brian and Katie.
Brian and Katie are good people. They’ve been married for two years; they hold jobs as public school teachers; they have the most enormous Golden Retriever you’ve ever seen. They’re just Regular People.
Regular people who wear the same outfits every New Year’s Eve, it appears. (I know, I find them irresistibly charming and adorable, too.)
NEW YEAR'S EVE, 2006
NEW YEAR'S EVE, 2007
Brian and Katie have also been blessed with a charming and adorable daughter. She’s about to turn 16 months old and her name is Emily. And two weeks ago, while on vacation in another state, Brian and Katie found out that Emily had a cancerous tumor the size of a baseball growing at the base of her brain. A tumor that looked so menacing on the radiology report that when Emily’s doctor first saw it, he retreated into a back room and wept for the little girl he wasn’t certain he could help.
The situation deteriorated rapidly, and on Easter Sunday afternoon, it was determined that Emily’s tumor was bleeding into her brain and would most certainly pose a threat to her life if not treated immediately. Unfortunately, Emily had been violently ill the previous week, unable to keep food or milk down, and doctors decided to push the surgery to Monday morning to allow her an extra night to get some much needed rest and intravenous nourishment.
And then the doctors told Brian and Katie the unthinkable: that they should call their families and let them know that Emily might be too weak to survive the 12-hour surgery. If they wanted an opportunity to say goodbye, they needed to be in Savannah to see her before she was wheeled into the operating room the next morning.
Then, the miracle: Emily made it through the surgery without requiring additional medical intervention (she didn’t even require a blood transfusion) and is resting comfortably. Doctors were able to remove between 50 to 70 percent of the tumor. At the time I am writing this, pathology reports on the tumor still haven’t come back, but the oncologist who was in on the surgery is pretty confident that it will be one of three very aggressive forms of cancer. Emily might avoid more surgery, but she will most definitely face some intensive chemotherapy treatments, especially since her latest MRI shows that the cancer has spread to her spine.
Brian and Katie have decided that the best care for Emily is in Savannah, even though they call the suburbs of DC their home. Making that decision for them was not without its challenges. Brian had to take an unpaid leave of absence from his teaching job (Katie has been a stay-at-home mom to Emily since last summer). And they are looking at spending an unspecified amount of time – weeks, maybe months - in a strange city far away from friends and family and the comforts of home. But they are happy to do it if it gives Emily a better chance at being healthy and cancer-free.
The thing is, they can’t do it without going into a huge amount of debt. They’ve got a mortgage here in Virginia; they've got car payments. They’ve also had to secure an apartment in Savannah where they can live while Emily goes through chemo, and that apartment will have to be professionally cleaned and sterilized before Emily can live there. They have to buy a special hospital crib for her to sleep in. And in between all of that, they've got to eat and pay for utilities, gas, toiletries. And they’ve got no reliable income to speak of to do it all.
There’s going to be a donate button on this website for as long as Emily is in treatment. Please let me be clear: I am not asking you to donate if you don’t feel led to do so. But every little bit does something, every dollar gives this family an opportunity to stay together and support each other, alone in a strange city while they go through hell on earth fighting their daughter's cancer.
Those of you who read this website on a regular basis, you know I’ve never asked for anything like this before. But there is this part of me that wonders if maybe this little self-centered website is part of God’s plan for Emily; maybe He has given me the opportunity to correspond and communicate with so many people out there so that we can be part of something miraculous for this amazing little family that needs to be cared for. I can't just sit here and do nothing.
Emily needs your prayers and good wishes, too. If you would like to leave a message for her and her family, please do so in the comments section. They really need the encouragement and prayer support, even from complete and total strangers.
Thank you, everyone. Your kindness and generosity is appreciated beyond words. I will have more updates on Emily's status as we find out more.
* * * Update, 4-2-08 * * *
Emily is doing well, but has been leaking some spinal fluid from the location where her drain was located after her last surgery. She may need to have the drain replaced, and she may require a more permanent solution like a shunt. Doctors are still evaluating the situation and should know more soon, but until then, her chemo will have to be pushed back for a week or so. However, in the great news category, another brain scan done Monday morning showed that the tumor is no longer growing.
* * * Update, 4-10-08 * * *
For the latest news on Emily, please go here.
Also, for all who have asked: If you are uncomfortable donating through Paypal or do not want to create a Paypal account, the Mandell family has set up a trust fund for Emily through Bank of America. This means that you can walk into any Bank of America location and make an anonymous donation into the account for Emily Mandell. Please don't hesitate to email with any questions or concerns! THANK YOU ALL!