BATTLE & BRAVERY
The lanky, brown-eyed 11 year old wants to be a model, or a performer better than Beyoncé, or maybe a lawyer, or a forensic artist. Such are the wildly varied dreams of a young girl full of life.
But this is no ordinary girl. She’s a survivor of a rare and aggressive bone cancer, osteosarcoma.
Sundance Elementary School student Kendra Edwards was diagnosed with cancer when she was 9 years old, but even cancer cannot defeat her positive attitude and hopes for her future.
Over the past two years, Kendra has undergone two surgeries and 18 in-patient chemotherapy treatments, yet she has managed to keep up with her school studies.
The tumor was removed with a section of her leg bone, and then a limb salvage surgery replaced four inches of her femur, her knee and the top of her tibia with titanium extensions.
“I prayed about it, and then I’d try to forget about it — that it was even happening — hoping it was kind of like a dream almost, and that I’d wake up sooner or later,” Kendra said.
When her family first learned she had cancer, they were overwhelmed with grief, but one day, Kendra and her mother, Tracy, met another patient, Bernadette, and her mother.
“OK, I’m sitting here devastated,” said Tracy. “And this little girl has had cancer. Her leg is amputated, and she and her mother are smiling, and our doomsday thinking changed. These people had obviously been through hell and yet they’re smiling.
“I thought, ‘OK, we’re going to be able to do this.’ They gave me all the hope in the world.”
Before the surgery, Kendra had six chemotherapy sessions, and after the surgery, she had 12 more high dose chemo treatments over a six week period. During the treatments she had to stay in the hospital.
Like the “Boy in the Bubble,” Kendra was often in quarantine and not allowed to go outside because of her vulnerability to illness while undergoing the chemo.
“Even if I needed to go outside just to get something out of the car that’s just five feet away, I had to wear a mask and gloves,” she said. “It was hard, because I’m used to being out and about and being able to hang out with my friends.
“I kind of got really depressed after my leg surgery, because I couldn’t even — I had to use a walker and I could barely walk on that, even to get just to the kitchen. It was really hard to be immobilized.”
During chemo, Kendra said she was a “couch potato,” because the treatments made her tired, she said.
“The chemos did cause a little bit of damage,” her mother said. “She has hearing loss in her left ear, and some heart damage to the left ventricle.”
Wondering if their lives would ever be normal again, Tracy and Kendra met the mother of a boy with leukemia.
“She said, ‘You know what girls, change your definition of normal, because you’re going to need to make a new normal for your family. It’s going to be a different normal from your neighbor, but you’re going to have a normal,’ Tracy said. “So, we were all sitting there with these devastating things happening, and being inspired all at the same time.”
During the whole process, Kendra’s teachers would bring schoolwork to her house or have prepared assignments ready to be picked up. Her fourth grade teacher even did some home-schooling for her.
“It was real easy for me to keep up,” said Edwards.
She missed three months of fourth grade and the first half of fifth grade, but was able to go back to school in January.
“I loved it,” Kendra said. “I was sad when we were on spring break because I wanted to go back. I was happy learning new things.”
Her favorite part was learning fractions, because it came easy for her, she said.
“In situations like this, how the good in people shines through,” Tracy said. “The whole community with Kendra was just amazing.
“Sundance Elementary, Project Keys, (the before-and-after-school program), Los Lunas Middle School and Sundance had fundraisers for us — we didn’t even know they were doing this, and the National Honor Society held a dance fundraiser. Los Lunas as a community is amazing.”
Kendra had two favorite nurses, Theresa and Minnie; two favorite techs, Natalie and Alyssa; and a hospital entertainer named LaVita with the Child Life program.
“They were all really nice,” said Edwards. “Child Life in-patient hosted dog shows, bingo night — that’s where I got my blues band harmonica, and it’s my favorite thing — they’d have movie night. They hosted a lot of things there. We got to carve pumpkins and they cooked the seeds so we got to eat them.”
At first, Edwards was pretty shy with everyone. She was losing her hair and she worried people would laugh,
“Even though they are the nurses and they’ve seen it before, I wasn’t thinking of that,” Edwards said. “When I got used to it, I went to Child Life a lot.”
One of her favorite memories was Halloween when the nurses and medical technicians dressed up as fairies.
“It was the funniest thing,” Kendra said. “Theresa was a work-out fairy, and then there was an ’80s fairy. They were all dressed up … fireball fairy, all these weird kinds of fairies, really exotic kinds that you wouldn’t even think would be a fairy, and oh, there was a trash can fairy.”
“You kind of become a little family because you’re there so much,” said her mother.
Kendra said her favorite was the saline wars she had with the nurses and doctors using syringes filled with saline solution.
Her primary doctor, Ibrahim Ahmed, is a pediatric oncology specialist, and her surgeon is Dr. Robert Quinn, a professor and residency program director at the University of New Mexico.
As she grows, Kendra will need more surgeries to add extensions to lengthen her leg, said Tracy.
Dr. Quinn is moving to a hospital in San Antonio, so the family plans to travel there when she will need a leg extension.
“Wherever Dr. Quinn is, we’ll get there,” said Tracy. “And that’s who’s going to take care of Kendra in regards to her leg.”
Kendra earned a lot of “Bravery Bucks” from the Children’s Cancer Fund during her chemotherapy.
“They had a big Christmas party where they rented out, Explora for the families and the kids,” Tracy said.
“Explora was really fun, because I think you learn better when you actually do it for yourself,” Kendra said.
“The Children’s Cancer Fund is such an awesome group,” said Tracy.
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