CADYVILLE - The date March 4, 2010, is one Tammi S. Reil will never forget.
It's the day her niece, 5-year-old Audrey Napper, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of childhood cancer. Audrey, the daughter of Reil's brother, Neil and his wife, Missy, had been under the weather for several weeks, said Reil, and hadn't been responding to normal remedies.
"She didn't want to eat and she was throwing up a lot," explained Reil.
Audrey's parents had her examined and when they and Reil heard the word rhabdomyosarcoma, they had no idea what it meant, said Reil.
"We had to go onto the Internet and learn about it," said Reil. "And, I'll tell you, the news we got on the Internet was not promising."
What Audrey's family learned, said Reil, was only 30 percent of children that have rhabdomyosarcoma have signs of progress for five years or more. Beyond that, nothing is certain, she said.
Though the information gave a potentially bleak forecast for anyone with rhabdomyosarcoma, Reil said there have been many signs for hope in Audrey's particular case. Having now undergone a steady regimen of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the initial tumors that have invaded Audrey's body have responded well. Even sores Audrey developed in her mouth and throat from the radiation treatments have dissipated, allowing her to be removed from a feeding tube and eat solid foods again.
"It's cute because every time she tries to eat something again she'll say, 'Oh, it's just like I remembered it,'" said Reil.
Though Audrey is seeing signs of progress, Reil said she and the Nappers recognize Audrey has "a long road ahead."
"She'll still have chemo treatments every week until the end of April. She's on a treatment plan that takes 54 weeks," Reil explained. "But, at least now we know that it's working."
The treatments have prevented Audrey from having a life like most children her age, Reil said, including having to be isolated from others for periods of time to ensure her health. Even Reil's own daughters, who are much like sisters to Audrey, she said, have had to spend several weeks away from her at a time while she recovers. That's been a tough adjustment for all of them, including Audrey, but it's one that's been taken in stride.
"It's really stripped [Audrey] of being a little kid for quite awhile," said Reil. "But, she doesn't complain about anything. She does all these treatments, goes back to the hospital. She knows it's what she has to do and she just does it."
That's the same attitude Audrey's family - and even those who have simply heard of her condition - have taken toward raising money for her ongoing medical expenses. Earlier this year, Francine Mitchell, a friend of Reil, organized a bake sale to help. Weeks later, Reil's cousin helped host a car wash with members of his church. That support is something that means the world to Audrey's family, said Reil.
"There are so many good people out there that just want to do something to help. It's kind of overwhelming to see the reaction to my family and Audrey's need and how loved we are," she said. "It's really made us very grateful and appreciative of where we live."
This Sunday, Aug. 29, a benefit is planned for Audrey at the Assumption of Mary School on Clinton Street in Redford. The event will be held from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and feature a spaghetti dinner, bake sale, children's carnival and Chinese auction. Entertainment will be provided by Nite Train, Ross Mafia, Country Trio plus One, Movin' On, Denim, and Neil and Summer Gillespie.
"We're trying to make it very much a family-oriented event," said Mitchell, who is helping to organize the benefit that will also be alcohol and tobacco-free.
Those interested in helping Audrey and her family may also send donations in care of Audrey Napper to 410 Canning Road, Saranac N.Y. 12981.