By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, email@example.com
When Kristen Wampler is tempted to complain about the amount of time she spends driving her daughter back and forth to cheer practice and other school activities, she stops herself with a quick flashback.
It’s nearly three years ago – May 5, 2017 – and she and her husband, Ryan, have just found out that their daughter Audrey has B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
Audrey had been in to see her pediatrician for a well-child visit. Her mom had noticed some odd bruising on her daughter, but she wasn’t prepared for what she heard next.
“Her doctor took me in the hallway, and she told me, ‘You have to get Audrey to Riley. She has leukemia.’ ”
Audrey, now 12, underwent two years of treatment at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, under the care of Dr. Sandeep Batra and nurse practitioner Ann Haddix.
Kristen remembers how hard that time was for Audrey, while she had to stay positive for her little girl even when they shed tears together.
“I couldn’t quit because as a parent, if we quit, then everything else crumbles, so I tried to stay strong for everybody and Audrey especially. In moments when she was scared or didn’t think she could go back to school, I just tried to be encouraging and tell her it was going to be OK.”
Kindnesses extended by friends and family kept Audrey going. One of her teachers, who was treated for leukemia as a child, wrote her encouraging notes before each treatment.
Despite her illness, Audrey continued to excel in school, rarely missing classes except on treatment days. In fact, she was recognized for maintaining the highest GPA throughout elementary school before she transitioned to middle school last fall.
She concluded treatment in July 2019 and has been in remission since then, happily returning to her favorite activities like cheerleading.
“It’s been so fun to see her be able to participate in things as well as regain her strength,” Kristen said. “It’s just amazing now to watch her.”
Audrey, a sixth-grader in Center Grove Schools in Johnson County, has been vocal about her cancer journey and her support for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Last fall, she was selected as Girl of the Year for the local chapter of LLS, which gives her an even greater platform for raising awareness of the need for research into blood cancers.
In a video she and her family made for LLS, Audrey recalls the day she got to ring the bell signaling the end of treatment.
“It was a really happy day and it let everyone know that we were done with it,” she said.
Her dad remembers that day as well, describing the moment of the bell-ringing as “something so simple that meant so much.”
“To see her react the way she did with the nurses and the doctors, you could tell there was a weight off of her shoulders,” he said. “That probably got me more than anything.”
Supporting other leukemia and lymphoma families is a passion for Audrey and her entire family, including her younger brother, Mark, who is raising money through LLS’ Pennies for Patients program at his school.
Audrey, who wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up, said being Girl of the Year for LLS is her way of giving back. “It helps us know that we’re helping other families get through it.”
For parents of a child diagnosed with cancer, the worry never really goes away, but Audrey’s mom said they will continue to stay involved with LLS “so that other parents don’t have to hear, ‘your child has cancer.’ ”
Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org