Christmas to Remember: Beating Leukemia: December 25, 2012

For nearly half her life, five-year-old Calie Russell lived under a gray cloud, though her sunny disposition never showed it.

Russell is one of 2900 kids diagnosed each year with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“She was barely three years old when she was diagnosed. Finding out the news was really hard and we knew we had a long road ahead,” says mom Mindy Russell.

“Primarily the treatment method of choice is chemotherapy. It goes into your blood stream, whether we give it by mouth or we give it IV or as a shot and it covers everywhere,” says Dr. Emad Salman, pediatric oncologist/hematologist with Golisano Children’s Hospital.

The Russell’s journey led to The Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

“If a child is diagnosed with cancer and they’re here in Fort Myers or they are in Boston or they’re in Seattle or San Diego, they will be treated exactly the same way,” says Dr. Salman.

Leukemia is the most common cancer found in childhood. Because of its frequency doctors have been able to craft a long-term treatment protocol. It’s successful 90% of the time.

“The first year and a half included intrathecal chemotherapy, which is in her spine, blood work almost weekly, oral chemotherapy, oral antibiotics, other IV antibiotics. She was taking 15 pills,” says Russell.

We followed Calie throughout her treatment. It was long and grueling. Three and half years for boys and two and a half years for girls, a milestone Calie recently reached.

“We finally found out the date was November 1st so we started countdowns because the light at the end of the tunnel was finally there,” says Russell.

The milestone was too monumental to keep to themselves. So Russell posted this picture on facebook.

“I put the date, put a picture of her bald. And I posted it on the Ellen Degeneres facebook page, just to share our good news with everybody and it went viral,” says Russell

Like lightning, it got 843,000 ‘likes’.

“It felt like a huge weight had been lifted from our shoulders, it felt really really good to finally reach our success,” says Russell.

A sentiment seconded by Calie.

Well, I bet you don’t want to see another pill for a long time. “No gross I would want to throw it away in the trash,” says Calie.

“When we say she’s in remission it means, with the best tests available today, we can’t find any evidence of the cancer,” says Dr. Salman.

It takes years of living cancer free before doctors can say Calie’s cured. But this Christmas promises to be their best ever.

“Absolutely this will be our third Christmas since being diagnosed. Last year she was actually in the hospital at Christmas Eve,” says Russell.

So the little girl with the infectious personality- is ready to dance off into the sunset.

Well congratulations, can I get a high five?