EDITOR’S NOTE: September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which is a time to shine the light on the realities of childhood cancer and emphasize the importance of life-saving research. The situation is urgent as incidence rates are rising and cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease for children.
GUYTON -- Even though her daughter’s story seems destined for a happy ending, Heather Smith still sheds tears when she tells it. That’s because every chapter in 2021 has been filled with pain and anguish for the brave main character and those who love her.
Seven-year-old Aurora is battling leukemia.
“We all had COVID-19 in January,” Heather said, referring to herself, her husband Justin and Aurora. “She ended up getting these little spots on her legs after that and we just thought, you know, she got into something, but they didn’t go away. So we went to the doctor’s office and they did a blood test and, for some reason, they sent it to North Carolina.
“We didn’t understand why but, basically, they sent it because her white blood cells were like out of this world — really high.”
On Feb. 4, the Smiths returned to Memorial Children’s Hospital in Savannah for more tests and were told that Aurora has leukemia. She has been undergoing gruelling chemotherapy sessions multiple times per week since then.
“We call her our warrior princess,” Heather said before being overcome with emotion.
At that point, Justin took over the telling of Aurora’s story. He revealed the challenges that his daughter and wife have endured.
“I work full time still so that burden of going to the clinic (with Aurora) and all that stuff has been on Heather and it hurts,” he said, “but we still have to do what we have to do for the insurance and everything, and to make sure that Aurora has that insurance and that help. It is rough.
“It is really rough on both of us but we just keep on thinking positive because Aurora is in remission. She is kicking butt and is going exactly what we ask of her. She is doing exactly what the nurses and doctors ask of her.”
“She is just awesome,” Heather said after composing herself. “She has always kept her smile through all this.”
Aurora is a South Effingham Elementary School (SEES) student who is participating in the Hospital Homebound Program.
“(School officials) have just been amazing through all this, helping us out,” Heather said. “All the Effingham County schools did a walking fundraiser where they counted their steps. Her school basically made sure that it won.
“All the money that the schools raised came to SEES and they gave us all the donations. That was really nice.”
Aurora’s teachers even showed up at her house to hide Easter eggs a couple months after her disease was discovered.
“Little things like that have really helped out,” Heather said.
CURE Childhood Cancer has been another godsend for Aurora and her family.
“In the beginning, they help and they give you this hope — all these (success) stories,” Heather said. “When we are in the hospital, they will bring lunch for us. Little things like that help and boost your spirit.
“It’s helps so much. They are really amazing.”
CURE invests millions in critical research that will lead to safer and more effective cures for kids. To donate, visit https://curechildhoodcancer.org/childhood-cancer-awareness-month/.
“They are definitely a worthwhile cause the helps not only the children but the entire family,” Heather said. “Once everything gets back to normal (for Aurora), we will definitely — in some way, shape or form —continue to work with them.”
“We will stay involved because they have been infinitely helpful to us,” Justin added.