Four-year-old battling cancer as family waits

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Lilly Singleton, a sweet-voiced 4-year-old girl, knows she’s sick, but she is a “cancer ninja,” she said.

“We kick cancer’s butt every day,” said Lilly.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Lillian “Lilly” Singleton, 4, being kissed by her mom, Evelyn, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, childhood blood and bone marrow cancer, in May.

Singleton was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, the most common childhood blood and bone marrow cancer, last May. It all happened so quickly, and hit the family like a bomb, said her father, Japheth.

“It was really terrible finding out that she was 97 percent cancerous, but there was some miraculous news as far as it not being her brain or her spine,” Japheth Singleton said.

Lilly has her off days, but mostly she’s a typical, cheery little girl. She seems to take it all in stride, better than the adults in her life, her mother commented.

“Cancer affects the whole family,” Evelyn Singleton said. “It’s scarey.”

It’s been hard for the grandparents, and Lilly’s younger sisters, Marley, 2, and Sequoia, 15 months — particularly for Marley when Lilly has had to stay in the hospital, Evelyn said.

“She’s very attached to Lilly,” she said. “Lilly’s her big sister — she does everything with her.”

Medicaid has literally been a life-saver, said Japheth, who wasn’t working when Lilly became sick.

“New Mexico Children’s Cancer Fund has been there for us the whole time,” he said. “Vickie Reese over there is an amazing, saint-like lady, and they make sure the kids get a toy every time they come to the hospital.”

The organization has also helped the young couple with some of their bills, as well as given them gas and food vouchers.

Currently, Lilly is in remission, but she must continue treatments, spinal taps and other chemotherapies over the next two years. That’s plan A, but if that fails, plan B requires a bone marrow transplant, Japheth said.

It’s an ongoing battle, though, because the chemotherapy treatments often lead to other problems, such as the infection Lilly developed at the port injection site of her intravenous chemotherapy.

A plastic catheter-type object is inserted into Lilly’s chest where chemotherapy drugs are given straight into the main valve of her heart, and the heart disperses the medicine throughout her body.

The family was told that because Lilly is so young, her veins are too delicate for the harsh chemotherapy drugs that would burn them. The port is an alternate route, but isn’t without complications. Lilly’s natural bacteria were adversely affected by the cancer treatment, and an infection at the site ensued.

“Most of what we see is because of the chemo,” her father said.

“And in order for her to get her treatments, her immunity level, which is called her ANC level, needs to be over 750, and then her platelets have to be over 75,” Evelyn said. “If her levels are not at that, we stall on her treatments.”

Lilly’s treatment is behind, but will resume when the port infection and a skin infection have been cleared up with the right antibiotics.

At some point, when Lilly is further along in her recovery, the family plans to travel to Disney World, compliments of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which granted Lilly’s wish to be a mermaid superhero.

“They mentioned Sea World, maybe Lilly would like to swim with dolphins,” Evelyn said.

Lilly contemplated the idea, then excitedly said, “I could hang onto them and swim like a mermaid!”

“I have a lot of wishes when I go to sleep at night,” she said.

Meanwhile, the family is moving to a new house in Belen, because the house they are renting in Los Lunas has been sold.

“We hit some really hard financial periods,” Japheth said. “We’re still arm wrestling with that stuff, like most Americans, but cancer adds another variable.”

Japheth is a licensed residential electrician and a tattoo artist, but work has been sparse, he said.

This year, he will become a certified photovoltaic installer to add to his job options. He attends the Central New Mexico Community College’s workforce training center and expects to achieve his certification later this year.

“I do service calls, and I try to line up as much work as often as I can,” he said. “Whatever I can do to make ends meet.”

Evelyn has joined a nonprofit charity, the Modified Dolls, to help raise awareness about childhood cancer.

If you would like to help the family, call Evelyn at 818-4127, or email evelynsingleton@ymail.com, and visit Lilly’s Facebook page, “Lillian the Cancer Ninja.”


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.