|SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 1998|
This message was sent via e-mail on Saturday, June 6, 1998. Again, it has been almost two months since I last sent an update. I know that many of you have been anxiously awaiting news of Ashley, and I apologize for keeping you in the dark. Thank you all for your incredible concern and love. This will be a brief update (at least, that is my intent here at the outset!).
On April 27, Ashley turned 11 years old! I am having a difficult time believing that my baby girl is almost a teenager! We had her birthday party at the local bowling alley, and she and her friends had lots of fun.
SCHOOL IS OUT
Ashley and Justin's last day of school was May 22. At Ashley's Fifth Grade Graduation ceremony, Ashley was the first student to "walk the stage". As her name was called out, the audience rose to their feet to give her a standing ovation. It was a very touching moment! (I'm getting teary-eyed again just thinking back on it.) She didn't even use her wheelchair. She was slightly wobbly, but she walked the whole way through graduation! What an incredible day. Susan was also presented with a diploma for finishing fifth grade for the second time!!
In spite of everything that Ashley has been through during the last year-and-three-months, she not only kept up with her school work and passed fifth grade with her classmates, she graduated from fifth grade with a 98 average!! Justin graduated from second grade with a 96 average! Pardon the bragging, but I must admit I am quite the proud papa!
A few days prior to graduation, Ashley and Justin's school had an awards assembly for the school's Accelerated Reading program. This is an incredible program that encourages all kids to read more, and develops a motivation within children to read for the sheer pleasure of it. Ashley and Justin both received achievement awards for their reading accomplishments this year.
It was at this same awards ceremony LAST year that T.C. Wilemon Elementary School established the Ashley O'Rear Award, presented to a student who has exhibited faith and courage, and achieved academic success, in the face of incredible obstacles. Ashley was the recipient of her namesake award last year. This year, she had the privilege of presenting her award to someone else. This year's recipient is a brave little girl named Meagan who is battling sickle cell anemia.
Ashley was also presented with another award this year. She is the 1998 recipient of the Jessie Randolph award, given in honor of another past student of Wilemon Elementary, and awarded each year to a student who has become dedicated to reading through the Accelerated Reading program.
A couple of weeks before school was out, T.C. Wilemon fifth graders who qualified and chose to participate, attended a 3-day "outdoor education" program at a camp called Sky Ranch in East Texas, a couple of hours drive from Waxahachie. There were 53 students who participated, and Ashley was one of them. Susan and I both went as chaperones. It was lots of fun, and Ashley did great.
The weekend prior to Sky Ranch was quite busy. On Saturday, Ashley and Justin both participated in a Putt Putt Golf fund raiser for the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation of the Southwest, a non-profit volunteer organization that raises money to funnel into cancer research dealing specifically with brain tumors in children. Ashley raised over a hundred dollars in pledges for this wonderful cause!
That was Saturday morning. After leaving the Putt Putt Golf event, we drove straight to the opposite side of Dallas for a day at a Dude Ranch, sponsored by the American Cancer Society especially for pediatric cancer patients. We went to this same event last year. It was lots of fun.
The following weekend we attended another American Cancer Society event that we found out about almost at the last minute. This was an incredible fund raiser that drew hundreds of participants from all over Ellis County. It was basically an all-night walk-a-thon, in which teams of participants obtained sponsors, and then walked all night long around a football stadium track to raise the money pledged by their sponsors. Each team had to have one member on the track at all times, walking or running, and most teams divided the task into 30-minute shifts. The entire "Relay For Life" lasted 18 hours, and raised an incredible amount of money for the American Cancer Society. The event kicked off with a Survivors Walk, led by Ashley and another young lady with cancer, carrying a banner. I was very impressed with how well this event was organized, and how effective it was at raising both cancer awareness and cancer funds.
ALWAYS THE STAR!
Ashley was once again (actually twice again) center stage during the month of May. On May 19, the North Texas McDonald's restaurants held a preview party at Children's Medical Center to announce the second wave of Teenie Beanie Babies which would be given as prizes in their Happy Meals. The hospital invited several patients who collect Beanie Babies to help celebrate this occasion by bringing their collections of the little critters to the hospital to participate in the kick-off parade. Ashley led the parade, right behind Ronald McDonald and the Raz-Ma-Tazz Band, with her collection of 99 non-duplicate Beanie Babies riding in her Little Tikes wagon (the same wagon in which we used to cart her around the hospital). Several other patients followed with admirable collections as well. Ashley was interviewed by one of the local Dallas TV stations, but this time most of the interview ended up on the editing room floor. She appeared on the evening news report for about half a second.
This past Sunday, May 31, our whole family was invited to appear on the local broadcast of the Children's Miracle Network Champions Telethon. The national telethon was broadcast from Disney World, with the local broadcast staged at Six Flags Over Texas. Our whole family appeared on the program, being interviewed by a local TV news personality (Scott Murray) concerning Ashley's cancer and our experience with Children's Medical Center. The telethon raised well over half a million dollars (the goal was around $750,000, but I never heard the final count), all of which goes directly to Children's Medical Center of Dallas and Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth to help provide top-notch medical care to the kids of this area.
THE END IS IN SIGHT!!
Ashley went to the hospital today for her next-to-last chemotherapy treatment. Today's was just a one-day treatment, and she is now back at home as I write this (actually, she and Susan are at Wal-Mart as I write this! Go figure!). Her final chemo treatment will be a 3-day hospital admission, and is scheduled for June 29 - July 1. And then we are DONE!!
Yeeeeeeeeeee-Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!! (Pardon my Texas drawl!)
Ashley still has a couple of surgeries (one to remove her port-a-cath, and eye surgery to correct her double vision), which will be scheduled over the next several months. And the hospital will still be a regular part of our lives for several years as we take her back for regular check-ups and scans to keep track of her progress. But the day-to-day grind of constantly going back and forth to the hospital for both scheduled and unscheduled stays and treatments is almost over. And I can't even begin to tell you how excited we are!
We are planning to throw a Texas-sized party to celebrate Ashley's graduation from her treatment protocol. We haven't set the date yet, but I will certainly let you know as soon as we do. YOU ARE ALL INVITED!!
SWEET BABY JONATHAN
I wish I could tell you that things are looking up for Baby Jonathan, but realistically they simply are not. His tumors recently started growing again, and several weeks ago a CT scan showed that they were twice their original size. He underwent surgery last week to have another shunt placed in his head to relieve the ever-increasing build-up of pressure. The most recent e-mail from Gregg and Stacey sounded very disheartening. Jonathan is on hospice care, and they are basically waiting for the moment when their precious, beautiful baby boy will go home to be with Jesus. It breaks my heart to have to bring you this news, but I know that many, many of you have been concerned about Jonathan as well. Please continue to pray for him, and for his parents, Gregg and Stacey.
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU
Susan and I would like to once again express our heart-felt thanks to each of you who have offered prayers, sent cards, sent e-mails, given us money, and shown concern and love in so many other ways. You have been, and will continue to be, a tremendous blessing to us. Please know how deeply you have touched our lives.
God bless you all.