This birthday story comes from my "Apprentice" Maddie Gardner. The other day she asked if someone she knows could be an honorary international part of #MollysKids.
Take five minutes.
Kickstart your week.
And happy birthday to Chiara, from all of us.
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Chiara Palma is spending her 16th birthday – today -- in a hospital getting blood tests to see if her cancer is going away.
I can't imagine what that must be like. So many of us turned 16 never thinking about anything except how we'd celebrate. But my friend Chiara isn't like most of us. I'm really grateful to get the chance to write about her and ask her to be a part of #MollysKids.
Let me say first, I love following #MollysKids. I had no idea how many kids fight pediatric cancer and other uphill medical battles until I started my internship with Molly. All the stories and emails Molly gets are about local kids. She lets me help her go through them.
It's mind-boggling to realize how many LOCAL kids are affected.
Chiara is far from local. She lives in Switzerland.
I first met Chiara the way most international cheerleaders connect… on Facebook. We became friends and pen-pals in 2013. Over the next three years we kept in touch. I once sent her hair bows for cheerleading.
(In return, she sent Swiss chocolate. Yum. Molly and I have the same addiction.)
Soon after I started my summer at WBTV News I got a message from Chiara.
"Hi Maddie," she wrote. "I wanted to tell you I recently stopped with cheerleading because I had problems with my back. I never thought that it would be this bad."
At first I thought, "Ugh, back injuries are the worst! I hope she feels better soon."
Then I read…
"I went to different doctors and they found out it was more than a simple injury. I have a tumor in my back. I had a biopsy two weeks ago and they told me it is a very aggressive one and I have to start chemotherapy."
What?! I re-read it. A tumor?
When I continued it sounded worse.
"The chemotherapy is 20 weeks long. Then I'll have surgery and then chemo again."
Since then I've found out Chiara has Ewing-Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer mostly found in kids. I've read about other #MollysKids in the Charlotte-area who have this exact type.
Chiara's cancer went undiagnosed for quite some time. She tells me it was a long series of referrals that started with doctor's visits to treat what was believed to be inflammation…then ointments and exercises that didn't help… then a physical therapist who told her she needed to see a specialist… then that specialist gave shots to help with pain that did nothing.
All that took 11 months. Finally a doctor suggested an MRI.
"When my doctor got the results she called us immediately." Chiara said. "She told me I had a kind of tissue I shouldn't have."
Two weeks ago I did a Skype interview with Chiara so I could connect with her more personally to interview her for this article.
Even through a computer screen I could see she was all smiles under a bright pink head scarf. That's us in the middle picture of this collage.
Chiara's smile was contagious. Even though I wanted to cry, Chiara's smile wouldn't let me.
She told me the tumor was responding well to chemo.
I told her I wanted to Skype again soon, but just to connect and stay in touch. She was excited - but said next time she'd definitely be in the hospital.
So instead of Skype-ing Chiara today, I'm asking Molly to post this article. Hopefully when Chiara sees her beautiful picture and story out here being shared with the world, it'll make her really happy.
The last part of Chiara's message in June said this.
"I hope that I get the opportunity to meet you in person one day, maybe when I'm healthy again."
Me too, Chiara. Me too. I feel confident we will.
Until then, Happy 16th birthday.
Lots of love from the US,