When Susan Walters got a phone call from her 2-year-old daughter’s doctor early last December, she figured it was because of a vitamin deficiency.
Instead, they told her it was acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a particularly dangerous cancer of the blood or bone marrow characterized by an abnormal increase in white blood cells.
“It was a nightmare,” she said. “We were singing Christmas carols at the time and we just figured it was a vitamin D or iron deficiency.
“Instead, they told us to pack our bags immediately and come down to Children’s Hospital in Seattle for two days.”
Two days turned into eight months, however, and two weeks ago, her daughter, Jessica, now age 3, was allowed to return home with special instructions to protect her from possible infections.
“She can’t play in the dirt, she can’t touch plants, and we had to get rid of our pets because her immune system is basically non-existent,” she said.
At first glance, Jessica looks like any other 3-year-old. Wearing a pink, flowered sunhat and a cheerful smile, one cannot tell she has lost most of her hair because of the chemotherapy. Her mother nearly chokes up when she says she wishes she could braid Jessica’s hair like she used to.
“She wants to be a princess still and do the things little girls want to do,” she said, adding that her father now refers to her as his “Little Warrior Princess.”
When their neighbor, Olivia Sellinger, a Blaine high school junior who frequently babysat Jessica, heard the news, she started a fundraising effort to help the family with their medical bills.
Her efforts will also satisfy her senior project, which is required for graduation.
“I figured it was a good way to kill two birds with one stone, I could help them and get my senior project done at the same time,” she said.
Walters said whatever her family faces in medical costs, she expects it to keep adding up. One of Jessica’s medications, for example, was $300 a month, and she’ll be on four types of medication over the next year, she said.
She added that when her daughter became sick, their insurance company cancelled their policy. They were able to find a new provider, but many of the expenses will be paid out-of-pocket.
In the meantime, Walters said all the support they’ve received from individuals in the community has been overwhelming.
“It was so sweet,” she said. “We’re so humbled that anyone would want to try to help us, it blows me away, especially after coming from Chicago. The community here is just amazing.”
Sellinger said she hopes she can raise about $3,000 through her fundraising efforts, part of which, includes a bicycle ride beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, August 21 at Birch Bay State Park. The ride costs $10 for the 10-mile ride and $25 for the 25-mile ride. All proceeds will go to Jessica’s family.
Sellinger said individuals can also donate through PayPal at www.littlewarriorprincess.com or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.