Feature Section: Audrey's Mom
Krista and daughter, Audrey, take their role as childhood cancer advocates
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Audrey’s mom.
That’s a title I take very seriously, because ten years ago, I didn’t
know how long I’d get to use it.
Audrey was diagnosed with
Stage 4 Neuroblastoma when she was 11 months old. Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that starts
with solid tumors in the abdomen. From there, the cancer spreads quickly
and aggressively. At the time of her diagnosis, Audrey had tumors in her
abdomen, her spinal fluid, along both sides of her spinal column, and
even a few lesions on her skull.
She was literally being eaten alive by cancer.
Audrey, age 12 months, on her last day of inpatient chemotherapy.
Audrey is my first-born. She is the reason I am
mommy and not just Krista. The realization that she could be so sick shook me
to my core. Neuroblastoma is a major battle in a terrifying war. So, like
any general facing an enemy army, I turned to my strategists. I looked
for the experts, and I found them at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
Cancer is a very scary word, and it tends to be accompanied by even bigger, scarier words.
Metaiodobenzylguanidine. The doctors at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital took all these
big, scary words and made them digestible for me and my husband.
They helped me realize that there was a survival rate, and that Audrey
was going to get there.
East Tennessee Children’s Hospital has not only saved my daughter’s
life; they have given her a childhood.
Over time, East Tennessee Children’s Hospital became like a second
home to us. Audrey’s oncologist, Dr. Shahid Malik, and the nurses
and staff throughout the hospital made our time there more than an existence
– they gave us life. They listened when I voiced my concerns. They
modified our treatment plan to fit our family. They celebrated treatment
milestones with us.
We felt more than doctor-patient care; we felt love. And that truly impacted the recovery process.
Audrey and her Evergreen Elves.
Audrey has been off treatment for 10 years. Out of the 13 families with
whom we started our journey, Audrey is one of only two children who survived.
And survivor is a title she takes very seriously.
Audrey has made a lot of friends at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital,
and she decided at a very young age that she would do anything to help
them. She is a spokesperson for the hospital through the
Children’s Miracle Network Ambassador Program, which means we travel to different businesses and events to share her
journey. Audrey’s story has been shared across the state and across
the country. She’s even made a couple celebrity friends along the way.
Audrey (left) and star of HGTV’s
Property Brothers Drew Scott helped raise more than $100,000 for surgical equipment
at the 2017 Children’s Hospital Golf Classic.
My daughter doesn’t remember being sick, which is a blessing, but
she is aware of how her survival has impacted others, and she remains
active in raising awareness for pediatric cancer research – as well
as money for her beloved hospital.
Over the years, Audrey has started a few of her own charities to help the
hospital. Each year, her charity Evergreen Elves collects decorated, 3-foot
Christmas trees to deliver to children in her community. She also raises
Camp Eagle’s Nest (the hematology and oncology camp for East Tennessee Children’s
Hospital patients) through
Audrey’s Jingle in July.
In her spare time, Audrey performs with a junior improv acting group. She
loves to sing and dance. Earlier this year, East Tennessee Children’s
Hospital made her the star of their surgery education materials.
In a three-minute video, Audrey helped prepare patients and families for their upcoming surgery.
Like any 12-year-old who has had to mature way too early in life, she
took the role very seriously.
I still remember on the day of the shoot, I felt like I was watching a
much older actress delivering Audrey’s lines.
Then the hospital’s marketing team let her keep the teddy bear she’d
used as a prop. She hugged it the whole way home. East Tennessee Children’s
Hospital has not only saved my daughter’s life; they have given
her a childhood.
Neuroblastoma will forever haunt my nightmares. I’ll probably always
be looking over my shoulder for the next illness to come for my child.
But this life is meant to be lived. We have learned to laugh loudly, to
sing along with the radio, to wear mismatched socks, to say yes more than
no, and to embrace every day. We almost didn’t have that, but we
got a second chance.
Audrey with her oncologist, Shahid Malik, M.D.
We are so thankful to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital for giving
us that opportunity. As the 2018 Children’s Miracle Network ambassador
champion, our family is honored to share our story.
Because East Tennessee Children’s Hospital is more than a hospital.
For many of us, it’s an investment in family, hope and life.