Families Of Children With Blood Cancer Hope To Raise Crucial Funding At Light The Night Walk On Oct. 16
As she walked around Market Street in The Woodlands last October during the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) annual Light the Night Walk, Cathy Marquis began to notice a similar trend: she was one of many Cypress-area parents with a child battling blood cancer.
“I started to look at everyone and realize we make a huge population out here,” said Marquis, a teacher at Spillane Middle School. “My idea, after seeing all the Cypress-area teams, was to make one huge team to draw attention to how many of our kids are being affected by it.”
Team Cypress Strong was born, consisting of the families of five leukemia survivors who all originated at Hamilton Elementary School: Cy-Fair High School students Sydney Marquis and Grace Lopez, Hamilton Middle School student Adam Lancaster, and Hamilton Elementary students Drew Carroll and Patrick.
Hamilton Librarian Jennifer Lucas, a friend of Marquis’, has dubbed them the “Hamilton Five.”
“All I knew about kids and cancer before Syd was that they looked cute with their smiles and bald heads on billboards and commercials,” Lucas said. “Through her friendship with my daughter, I saw what cancer really is —and there is nothing cute about it. As Sydney, Grace, Adam, Patrick and Drew’s librarian, they are all in a way, my kids.”
Sydney, who will soon turn 17, was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 11. The Marquis family was vacationing in Branson, Missouri, when Sydney — an avid volleyball player — began experiencing shortness of breath from simply walking.
“I noticed her lymph nodes were swollen, so I initially thought she had mono,” Cathy recalls. “But a pathologist called the next day with lab results and said it looked as if she had leukemia. We spoke to the only pediatric oncologist in a two-hour radius, and she said to get Sydney on a plane and get her to Texas Children’s as soon as possible. When we made it back, they confirmed that’s what it was.”
The Marquis’ way of life changed overnight. Sydney required a bone marrow transplant within a week and received a successful one from her older sister. Then began a 2 1/2- to 3-year bombardment of treatment including chemotherapy and full-body radiation.
“People are stunned because they don’t realize what these kids go through,” Cathy said. “They need full-time, round-the-clock care during the first year of treatment, and I had no idea. We essentially went from a nuclear family of five to a single-parent home overnight, because one of us was with Sydney at the hospital all the time.”
Community support made the transition more bearable, and Team Cypress Strong provides a common bond for the children who are fighting and the families who are struggling in the wake of a diagnosis.
“I say all the time that I love knowing all these people, but I hate the way we’ve had to meet,” said Kassie Lancaster, whose son, Adam, was diagnosed in August 2015. “It’s sad that there are this many kids in the area that are affected, but at the same time, having these families in the same school who have gone through this ordeal, people we could turn to and ask questions… that’s been invaluable.”
The team is already gearing up for the Light the Night Walk on Oct. 16 in The Woodlands by selling t-shirts on its Facebook page. The LLS’ Texas Gulf Coast chapter raised more than $1.6 million for the walks in 2015, and Cathy said the funding is crucial.
“Sydney wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for LLS,” she said. “If she would have been diagnosed five years before, they would not have had the technological advances in cytogenetics to be able to examine her cancer cells.”
Sydney was named LLS’ Girl of the Year in 2014, chosen for her strength and winning attitude. She was also chosen as the honored teammate for Cypress Team in Training in 2015 — a torch that has been passed to Adam Lancaster in 2016. She has spoken at galas and events for LLS and HOSA. Despite the permanent effects that leukemia treatment had on her body — high blood pressure and kidney, pituitary and ovary damage — she has maintained a positive attitude and even resumed playing club volleyball.
“She’s incredible,” Cathy said. “She’s the one person I know who has a right to be bitter about so many things, but she absorbs joy out of everything there is. She lives life to the fullest.”
With Childhood Cancer Awareness Month underway in September, Team Cypress Strong’s goal is to make progress toward eliminating the disease without the devastating side effects that Marquis and other CFISD students have experienced.
The group also hopes to raise awareness about the lack of funding for childhood cancer.
“Because of Sydney, I know what these treatments do to their little, growing bodies, and the life-long effects the treatments leave behind,” Lucas said. “Only 4 percent of funding goes toward cures for childhood cancer, and they are worth so much more. My hope is that more people are aware of how under-funded research is, and ways that we can support families who are going through this battle. My hope is that Team Cypress Strong is a dominant presence at Light the Night, and we show these courageous kids that we stand with them as they win their fight against cancer.”
Lancaster said she hopes that the lasting bonds that have formed between Team Cypress Strong parents continue forward with the students.
“I hope the kids all stay in touch and are able to be a support system among themselves,” she said. “Especially when you’re a kid in school, you don’t want to be singled out. So for them to have others who are going through the same thing as them, it will be a group they can always relate to going forward.”
To honor the “Hamilton Five” and Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, Hamilton Elementary School is collecting items throughout September to donate to children undergoing cancer treatment at Houston hospitals. Suggested donation items, which can be dropped off in the school’s front office (12050 Old Kluge Road), include board books; books for elementary and middle school students; children’s magazines; word searches; coloring books; crayons, pencils and markers; Play-Doh, Rainbow Looms and bands; craft kits; Legos; puzzles; nail polish; make-up kits; and face paint.
For updates, visit their Facebook page: Facebook.com/Team-CypressStrong-1564617170496298
Category: Cy-Fair People & Places