(WBTV) - 6-year-old spitfire Alexis Cunningham is trying to turn cancer on its head. (Luke Kuechly is a part of her story. Read on!)
"She's our only daughter," Sarah Cunningham says. "She's the sparkle in her daddy's eyes. Until recently she has been carefree and lively in every way. She played soccer last spring and took horseback riding lessons. She's smart, beautiful and kind."
As of last November 7th, 2017, Alexis was fighting for her life.
Lexi, who lives in Concord, had swelling on her elbow. Her mom took her to her pediatrician.
The doctor found no break or fracture, and referred her to an orthopedic, but Sarah had a gut feeling. She insisted blood work be done.
Later that evening, the pediatrician's office called with lab results - Lexi was anemic and should be rushed immediately to the ER.
As the hours passed that night at Levine Children's Hospital, first-grader Lexi became more and more lethargic. Sarah said it was obvious she needed a blood transfusion, and fast.
Lexi received two bags of blood over an eight hour period and still, her levels were less than average.
The next day they ran more tests. The day after that they did a bone marrow biopsy. They narrowed her possible diagnosis down to Parvo Virus – usually found in dogs, but can be found in children – and leukemia.
"This is when the world started feeling dark and small," Sarah said. "The next 24 hours were excruciating, right up until the point our little girl was finally diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia."
The morning of surgery, dressed like a superhero, Lexi made the long trek through the hospital to the operating room. She had a port placed in her tiny chest as she wore her mask and cape.
Hours later she began her first round of chemotherapy.
"Our daughter is a warrior," Sarah and her husband Thomas said. "A tiny, fierce warrior."
Warriors need support networks of other strong warriors, which is why Carolina Panthers superstar Luke Kuechly will join Lexi on Saturday, April 28, at Hickory High School for a flag football tournament benefit.
100 percent of proceeds go to Lexi's medical bills. $10 donation to get in. Anyone can come.
Lexi has been home bound from Patriots Elementary School the past few months (where her brother Hunter is a kindergartner), and has also since transferred her treatment to St. Jude Affiliate Clinic at Novant Health Hemby Children's.
Like many kids who start a journey like this, Lexi hit speed bumps.
She experienced toxicity to one of the chemotherapy drugs, which caused Bells Palsy on the right side of her face, a lazy eye, gall stones, kidney stones and high fevers.
Despite those setbacks, Lexi already achieved "remission" with currently less than 0.0002 percent of leukemia cells in her blood. She'll still continue maintenance chemo for two more years.
"Hallelujah!" Sarah screamed through her email. "We focus on the numbers point-oh-oh-oh-two all the time!"
Lexi, you're awesome. Your personality shines through photos. LOVE that your family all shaved their heads, too.
Have fun hanging out with Luke next month, and welcome to #MollysKids.
**Editor's note: This is about one of #MollysKids, children WBTV Anchor Molly Grantham follows closely on her Facebook page. It was first published there, which is why it's written in a personal way. For years Molly has followed hundreds of kids with uphill medical battles. Find this story and updates on all #MollysKids here.