CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Three-year-old Emma Holt. Charlotte. A typical playful toddler until late last year when she suddenly appeared "sluggish".
"That's the word I'll use but I'm not sure it explains it well," says Melinda Holt. "I just knew something was wrong with my baby girl."
Emma's parents took her to Levine Children's Hospital for evaluation. She was so tired they had to carry her in. Three days later – three days of blood work, CT scans and EKGs later – Emma was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
It was Christmas Eve.
Rather than wake up to Santa the next day, Emma was taken to the operating room where she got a port. Then she had a bone marrow biopsy. Then she underwent her first round of chemo, administered directly into her spine.
During January doctors attacked hard with steroids and weekly chemo. Side effects included irritability and painful weight gain.
The nasty drugs worked. Emma went into remission.
As if having a child with cancer wasn't tough enough, Melinda was 7-months pregnant when Emma was diagnosed. This past February, baby sister Danielle was born.
"It was a tough time," says Melinda. "Emma was dealing with physical pain, but also the emotional struggles with being jealous of a new baby."
Things settled a bit in March. At the end of April, Emma started another phase of treatment. In May treatments became more potent. She got back on bi-weekly steroids and started injections at home. That went into June and July. Her white cell count dropped a few times and delayed the treatment plan. Things picked back up last month -- chemo came every ten days in August.
Also last month, Emma celebrated her third birthday.
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As of yesterday she had 51 rounds of chemo.
Her next phase of treatment is unknown. Everything is based on how Emma's body reacts to the treatment right before.
If it sounds horrible, it is.
If it sounds unique, it isn't.
This up-and-down, never-black-and-white, always-gray-and-uncertain is what parents of kids who fight cancer deal with EVERY SINGLE DAY.
And yet... they keep going.
"Emma is a dream to have around," Melinda says, laughing. "She loves acting like a doctor with her baby dolls. She loves all things princess-related. She helps around the house. She loves baking with her Grammy."
The image of her play-acting doctor with baby dolls struck me as sad.
"Maybe you could see it that way," Melinda said. "But I don't. That's just truth. I mean at 3 years old, doctors are what she knows."
Melinda says they are told Emma's prognosis is good.
"We are lucky," Melinda said. "My husband Jeremy and I feel supported. We adore our church -- Good Shepherd Church -- and have been blessed by Hometown-Heroes Monroe Nc, Claire Foster Foundation, The Isabella Santos Foundation, The Sandbox Organization, Score One for Spencer and Levine Children's Hospital Pediatric Hematology and... Oncology Group.
But forget all that for a moment. Just look at this face.
Emma didn't ask for cancer. Not one of the 46 kids diagnosed every day ask to join this unwanted club. She's too young to read but I guarantee her parents will absorb every word there.
They are sharing their daughter in the hopes she moves you into realizing the deep need for assistance with pediatric cancer.
So, do what you can. Let Emma spur you into donating… volunteering… giving time or effort to kids or causes who need us to speak and fight for them. Contact any one of the groups tagged above. Sign up for a childhood cancer event this month. Email me if you want to brainstorm other ideas. email@example.com.
At the very least, tell someone you run into today about Emma.
Share her story.
We need a cure.