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FAMILY HEALING: After countless tests, Raeleigh Jane McCartha continues to improve

Pictured are, from left to right, Rachel, Josh and Raeleigh McCartha. After being diagnosed last year with neuroblastoma, Raeleigh has continued to improve in her health and demeanor. Submitted photo

Pictured are, from left to right, Rachel, Josh and Raeleigh McCartha. After being diagnosed last year with neuroblastoma, Raeleigh has continued to improve in her health and demeanor.
Submitted photo

Not many may know that this past Thursday, Neuroblastoma National Awareness Day took place all across the United States. While this may come as a surprise to many, one local family in particular took this day to heart.

During an ultrasound on Jan. 14, 2016, a four-inch by four-inch tumor was found in the abdomen of then 16-month-old Raeleigh Jane McCartha.

She was immediately sent to Children’s of Alabama hospital in Birmingham, where she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer.

It was later determined that McCartha had stage four neuroblastoma and was put into the high risk category. During scans, the cancer was found to have spread to her bones, arms, legs, spine and pelvis, but had not spread to her organs.

Since the diagnosis, McCartha has undergone aggressive chemo treatment.

“It started with excessive sweating, and then a rash that looked similar to strep. I took her to the doctor and he said it was viral; after, the blood work came back as normal,” said Raeleigh’s mother Rachel.

“Less than a week later she still wasn’t better, so I took her back and the doctor said she must have some form of hand, foot and mouth disease, and it should be better in a week. After about three days with her not sleeping at all, screaming in pain all night, sleeping during the day, not eating or playing I took her back to the doctor and insisted he check her more in depth.”

Rachel recalls feeling that something was seriously wrong with her daughter, even though it had not been proven yet.

After finding Raeleigh’s spleen enlarged, the doctor ordered an abdominal ultrasound.

“We had an ultrasound and were told she either had a Wilms tumor or neuroblastoma, but he felt certain it was neuroblastoma. After we got to Children’s within the next week, we found out it was all over her little body,” Rachel said.

“Over 80 percent of her bone marrow was covered, and her spine, hips, sternum, arms and legs were covered in neuroblastoma as well.”

After a year of chemotherapy treatments and more, the family is happy to report that Raeleigh’s condition and demeanor has improved greatly since first starting the regiment.

“Raeleigh is doing great today; she is almost done with her front line therapy. She has had six rounds of chemo, a tumor resection, two stem cell transplants with high dose chemo, 12 rounds of radiation and five rounds of immunotherapy with the last round scheduled for Feb. 13,” Rachel said.

“We will then travel to Michigan in April for a second opinion from the world’s high risk NB doctor to biopsy the remaining spot in Raleigh’s hip. We are, of course, prayerful that the spot will be completely gone. We plan to return home after her last round of immunotherapy in February.”

While an experience like this may be difficult to handle, the McCartha family knows that the many lessons they’ve learned will not only help them soldier on during this time, but could also lift up other families in their situation.

“This experience has taught us more lessons than I could ever share with you. One of the biggest, for me, is to find joy in every single day, no matter what,” Rachel said.

“Another one would be how many good people are still in the world. Watching the news or scrolling through social media sometimes, it is so easy to get caught up in all the bad or negative, but there are truly still so many good people left in this world. We have been blessed to have them in our corner.”

Along with these two positive outlooks on life, Rachel also says that the family’s faith in the Lord has truly been a foundation throughout this journey.

“Childhood cancer is given less than four percent funding for research. Too many children are losing their cancer battle because without funding, research cannot be completed to find less invasive, more efficient treatments,” Rachel said.

“Most all chemos used in the treatment of children were created for adults, so they are much harder on our kids’ organs. In comparison to adults with cancer, they say that childhood cancer is rare; that is why it is seriously underfunded.”

According to Rachel, even if a child is cured of their cancer they will still suffer major damages to their organs that must be monitored for life in many cases.

The family continues to work to bring awareness to childhood cancer in hopes that they can help other families going through this same situation.

Being from The Friendliest City in the South, the McCartha family was not surprised in the least to find that their community was rallying support for Raeleigh after news of her illness came to light.

“Countless things have been done to support our family. The biggest things have been the prayers for Raeleigh and our family to get through this. Cards have been sent, gold ribbons have been purchased by local businesses and families, donations, shirts purchased and a big run was held,” Rachel said.

“We will be having Raeleigh’s second annual run on April 22 of this year in Troy, Alabama. All of the details will be released very soon, and we hope that you will all join us to bring awareness and funding to this seriously overlooked issue. If all works out, Raeleigh Jane will be able to join us this year as well.”