Hailey Whiting was diagnosed with stage III anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of T-cell lymphoma, when she was just 2 years old.
For 4-year-old Hailey Whiting of Middletown, the last two years haven’t been easy. While her friends went out and played, swam or danced around the house, she visited doctors, underwent surgery after surgery and endured several rounds of chemotherapy a month. Instead of Barbie dolls and coloring books, she had to worry about pills and chemo ports.
Hailey was diagnosed with stage III anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive form of T-cell lymphoma, when she was just 2 years old. Since then she and her family, which include mom Debbie, dad Tom and two siblings, Caitie and Mitchell, have taken an emotional journey that Debbie equates to a classic roller coaster ride.
“There are times when things are so high — she’s feeling great, no one would even know she’s sick — and then tomorrow, she wakes up with a 104-degree temperature and you’re rushing her to the hospital.”
Hailey’s parents first saw signs that something was wrong when they noticed a red lesion on her back, which they initially thought was a mosquito bite.
“We took her in and doctors did a lymph node biopsy,” Debbie said. “We definitely weren’t thinking cancer. They thought she might have mercer’s disease, so they treated her with antibiotics, but within two months, it was the size of a fist.”
When the family learned it was indeed cancer, they were hit with a tsunami of emotions.
“At first I was just in disbelief,” Debbie said. “I knew I should be in shock, but it just felt like a mistake, even though I knew it was not. Then we just started crying and I was really, really angry. I didn’t know how it was going to impact her or the family or if she was going to die.”
The year that followed was filled with hundreds of trips to A.I DuPont Hospital for Children, some that lasted 10 to 18 days. Hailey underwent chemotherapy treatments a few days a week, was taking several medications, some that caused awful mood swings, hyper activity and rages, and going in for surgery what seemed like every few months.
“In a matter of six months she went from 25 pounds to 45 pounds,” Debbie said. “Her poor face was so stretched out. She didn’t look anything like she used to.”
Hailey was granted a trip to Disney World through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. The family described the trip as one of their best weeks, especially in the last two years.
“It was so much fun,” Hailey said. “I loved the horseback riding and the carousel.”
After the trip, Hailey underwent another surgery to have her teeth extracted and cavities filled due to the damage caused from chemo. For the most part though, she is now in remission.
“We just found four little lumps behind her ear, so doctors are keeping a close eye on it. Her most recent scan taking place this week will indicate if she can have her internal chemotherapy port removed.
“I will feel so much better after we get those results,” Debbie said.
A shoulder to cry on
Debbie said the family couldn’t have gone through the past few years without the help and support of their friends and neighbors, many of which provided meals, took Hailey’s siblings to school and were just there to listen.
That same group is now rallying around Hailey as they look to raise funds for the family’s mounting medical bills.
A Beef and Beer Benefit will be held Saturday, Aug. 20, from 7 p.m. to midnight at the Middletown Moose Lodge, located on Boyds Corner Road. The event will include food, unlimited drinks, live entertainment, door prizes, a 50/50 raffle, auctions and more. Tickets are $35 per person or $65 per couple.
Jackie Lieske, sponsor of the event and the Whitings’ neighbor, said having children of her own, she knows what the family must be going through.
“We just want to reach out and help in whatever way we can,” Lieske said. “We’re looking to raise as much as we can.”
Debbie said Hailey was recently cleared to go to school, and she looks forward to the day her daughter can enjoy a normal, carefree childhood.
“We have to take things one day at a time,” she said.