Cancer at any age must be scary to get, but to have at it at the age of two is incomprehensible to most.
Matt and Helen Vaughn know that feeling intimately because their daughter McKenzie, 2 1/2 years old, has had T-Cell Leukemia since she was 14 months.
McKenzie is the granddaughter of Rose Vaughn, a Hanna resident of over thirty years. Rose is well known to Hanna locals as she has worked for Rawlins National Bank twenty five years, where she is the manager and assistant vice president.
T-Cell Leukemia is extremely rare in children. In most cases, children get B-Cell Leukemia .
There is one encouraging statistic about children that get T-Cell Leukemia; survival rates are better than patients with B-Cell Leukemia.
It still depends on how sufferers react to the treatments. “Statistics show one in five patients with T-Cell Leukemia don’t survive to reach the three year mark after being diagnosed,” Rose said.
The disease is not hereditary in this case. McKenzie is Rose’s great-grandniece and was adopted by Helen and Matt. McKenzie’s adoptive mother also had Leukemia. Having had the disease herself, Helen can relate to her daughter’s dilemma.
Helen had B-Cell Leukemia at three and again at eight. At age fourteen, she was diagnosed with oesersarcoma that eventually led to her having the lower part of her leg amputated. Helen has had 32 surgeries for cancer.
It goes without saying, McKenzie has a mother who understands the suffering she is going through.
McKenzie is being treated at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. “Primary Children’s Hospital is an awesome children’s cancer center,” Rose said.
McKenzie visits the center at least once a month for her maintenance cycle of chemo. The staff administer the treatment through a port in her chest. They monitor McKenzie to make sure the cancer has not invaded her brain or lungs. Leukemia is a blood cancer, so there is fear it could spread to these organs. That would cause serious complications to an already serious situation.
She also has to have brain scans, liver and kidney tests and is required to have lumbar puncture to extract bone marrow. McKenzie must be put under anesthesia every time because she is too young to be trusted not to squirm.
The injections of chemo are varied, but all must be injected through her port.
“She doesn’t know any other way of life when it comes to the injections,” said Rose. “It is sad to watch her get anxious as they prepare her treatment.”
The cost of her treatment has been huge.
“One type of chemo injection she takes at least monthly costs $16,000,” Rose said. So far, McKenzie’s expenses since she started treatment have come to over $2,000,000 in 1.5 years.
“Matt, my son, has really good insurance with Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Wyoming, but there are still large out of pocket expenses,” she said.
While visiting Matt in Green River, Rose attended a fundraiser for children with cancer.
“I was looking around and seeing what they were doing to raise money and I told myself ‘I can do this back in Carbon County.’”
The idea to do a fundraiser for her granddaughter was born.
“My son didn’t even think we would hit five hundred because we were such a small community,” Rose said with a smile.
She broke the fundraiser into two parts: a dinner set in the fall, with silent auctions and prizes raffled off monthly.
When talking about the monthly raffles she said, “I didn’t expect a lot of sales, but almost every family had at least one member purchase a ticket to help.
“The people just poured in and bought tickets.”
The dinner took five months to get pulled together. The town of Hanna donated space at the Recreation Center. Oliver Tanner, owner of the Manley store in Hanna, smoked all the meat and did cooking. The First Baptist church “Ladies” did several bake sales before the dinner and provided desserts.
Hanna local businesses that donated to the fundraiser included Nugget Bar, Dingy Dan’s, Hanna Hometown Market, First Baptist Church, Wee Folks, Hanna VFW and Ladies Auxiliary.
Rose also reached out to others outside Hanna for help with donations. Those who helped include Rocky Mountain Hair out of Casper whose owner Brian Cushing graduated from Hanna; Elk Mountain Hotel; Cloud No 9 Wine Company; Medicine Bow VFW; Rochelle Golf Course; Rawlins National Bank; Tractor Supply in Rawlins, Erik of Laramie wood sculptures, Wolf Hotel and Bella’s out of Saratoga.
Rose said that both Kathy Campbell of the Wolf Hotel and Cassie Orduno of Bella’s, both businesses in Saratoga, called her personally to give support and donate.
When asked about her donation for the raffle and why she did it, Orduno said, “When you see a family or someone struggling in the community, it is almost an obligation to help. I consider Hanna a part of the community where we live and I am always glad when we can help.”
Kathy Campbell said, “I helped the family because it is a terrible to have any child of any age have cancer. The memory of my daughter Kirsten is never ending. I will do anything possible whether it be financial or emotional to show comfort to someone going through this heartbreaking situation. I was happy to donate through our business, but I called to show the support one parent to another.”
Once the fundraiser was over and raffle tickets sold, Rose presented McKenzie’s family with $7,500.
“It was amazing one hundred and twenty five people came to support the dinner fundraiser/auction. I’ve lived here in Hanna a long time, but it was inspiring that such a small community showed they really cared.”
When asked what she would tell someone who has a loved one facing a catastrophic disease, she replied, “When we first heard the news that she had cancer and there was a fifty/fifty chance she would die, it was horrible. You can’t realize how bad it is until it happens to you. We turned to our church and people prayed with us. We had people praying for us in Missouri, where I am from originally, and just everywhere. It is all ultimately in God’s hands. It is his will. He gives the knowledge to the doctors, who in turn realize how to treat the patient because every disease is different. For me, it is about faith and prayer.”
Rose said people still donate to McKenzie and she has set up an account for funds when they come in. People still offer gifts for her to raffle also. She said anyone who wishes to contact her should send their questions to Rose Vaughn, PO Box 10, Hanna, Wyoming 82327.