Presenting a seminar she calls Prosthesis 101 to a class of elementary school kids is all in a day’s work for Laurie of Duluth, Minnesota. It’s just part of being Mariah’s mom – a bigger job than she expected when she took it on, but one Laurie wouldn’t trade for anything.
The Beginning of a New Family
Both Laurie and Mariah live by the motto, “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Laurie separated from her husband after struggling for years with infertility; but that didn’t stop her from wanting a family. She traveled to China when she heard about the plight of orphans, especially girls, in that country. After two weeks, Laurie came home with Mariah and became a mother.
Eleven months later, Laurie went to the courthouse to finalize her adoption of Mariah. That same afternoon she found out that a bump on Mariah’s left ankle was a malignant bone tumor. Mariah was just two years old.
A Rare Disease for a Two-Year-Old
The Duluth orthopedist who found Mariah’s tumor referred the family to Dr. Edward Cheng, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Cheng, together with pediatric oncologists Drs. Joe Neglia and “Krish” Krishnamurti, supervised Mariah’s treatment plan. Dr. Cheng took a biopsy and diagnosed Mariah with osteogenic sarcoma, a type of bone cancer that usually occurs in children quite a bit older than Mariah. (Osteogenic sarcoma is the sixth most common malignancy in children and the most common type of bone cancer in children.) The cancer was located on her left shin bone and it was growing very fast. Mariah would need chemotherapy to kill the tumor. Then her left leg would have to be amputated below the knee.
That’s how Mariah and her Mom became experts on the subject of prostheses. Mariah is now on her fifth leg. She will need several more before she is full-grown. To ease the fears of Mariah’s schoolmates, Laurie often goes to Mariah’s classes to talk to them about her daughter’s prosthetic leg. She drew some pictures on the white board and spoke frankly to the kids about tumors and cancer. “The tumor had to go and that meant Mariah’s leg had to go,” she told a spellbound class. “Then,” she recalls, “Mariah took off her leg and passed it around.” After that, nobody thought of Mariah as “different.”
Osteosarcoma, a rare diagnosis for someone so young. Currently, the five year survival rate for osteosarcoma is 65%.
Though she spent several weeks in a body cast and went through many months of hospitalizations, painful treatments, surgeries, and complications, Mariah seems to bear few scars. She likes being in school and loves to read. Other things she likes doing – and does well, prosthesis and all – include bike riding, cross country skiing, gymnastics, softball, and wall-climbing! Her mom brags that Mariah is “the fastest kid on the wall” at the Shriner’s day camp, and Mariah’s attitude is “Hey, I can do it, just like you.”
Mariah has been an active participant in Children’s Cancer Research Fund’s annual family event, Time to Fly. Since 2003, Mariah and her mom Laurie have rallied family, friends and neighbors to join “Team Mariah” and celebrate Mariah’s amazing recovery from cancer, while raising funds for groundbreaking cancer research.
Support Allows Them to Press On
All along Laurie and Mariah have had family and friends to rely on, as well as the strong support of their church. That web of support, along with their own remarkable spirit, have carried them successfully through the intense challenges faced by kids with cancer. Laurie knows they will face other challenges as Mariah grows up, but this family is prepared for whatever the future hold. As Laurie says, “You always compare things to cancer: Is it as bad as cancer? Nope. We can do it.”