In fairytales, its usually the prince that battles the dragons, slaying them in a display of fearlessness and valor, but that’s not always the case, at least not in “princess” Ellie Blaine’s world. The Orange County toddler is continuing her crusade in the fight against cancer.
In February, spunky and spirited Ellie was diagnosed with Pineoblastoma, a rare malignant brain tumor representing less than 2 percet of childhood and adult brain tumors. After two operations—one to alleviate swelling and a second to remove 80 percent of her tumor—Ellie’s parents, Richard and Carly Blaine, enrolled their child in a pediatric brain tumor program in St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.
Carly and now 5-year-old Noah stayed behind in Orange while Richard and Ellie headed to Memphis, mostly due to Carly being nine months pregnant with Sarah-Grace. The family communicated via iPads until they could reunite in person, once for a few days in March to welcome in Sarah-Grace and again when Carly and the children joined Richard and Ellie in Memphis for an extended stay at Habitat for Hope, an organization that assists families with ill children.
After arriving in Memphis, Ellie underwent six rounds of chemotherapy at St. Jude, killing off the remaining 20 percent of her tumor and eliminating tumor cells in her spinal fluid, an issue that had placed her in the high-risk category. She came home for three weeks in July before heading back to St. Jude for a week of treatment and returning home in mid-August.
Late last month, Ellie and Carly headed back to Memphis for a three-day stint of testing and follow-up appointments. Unfortunately, they learned that Ellie had new growths on her brain, sending them back to St. Jude, this time for six weeks of radiation treatment. Carly and Ellie arrived in Memphis last week, accompanied by Carly’s mother. Richard is staying home for the meantime, working and taking care of Sarah-Grace and Noah, who started kindergarten last month.
Even with the news, the Blaines aren’t losing sight of their end goal and continue to be positive, even raising funds for others battling similar diseases.
“Staying positive is key,” Carly said. “This cancer is now harder to fight because it has come back, but all we can focus on is being at St. Jude.”
Carly said thinking about the “what-ifs” can become overwhelming. Instead, the family has taken an approach where they just take every day as it comes. She said she’s amazed at the reach their story has had, with people from across the nation, and even sometimes across the world, sharing in their fight for a cure.
“I am amazed and very honored that God choose us to touch as many families as we have,” she said. “[As part of a fundraiser,] we sold 1,000 shirts [in Ellie’s name]; she’s all over. We were in the elevator at UVa one day and a lady recognized her from Facebook. We’ve been stopped in the grocery store and even had a message on our blog from a gentleman in Hong Kong whose son was diagnosed with the same thing. He said our story gives him hope that there is a light at the end of this scary tunnel.
“I think Ellie’s face helps bring awareness to our local community and those around us about cancer, that it does happen, even to little princesses, but I think our entire story brings awareness to everyone about just what a family can endure when they give their hearts to Christ,” she added. “Without our faith, I have no idea where we’d be, or what kind of condition our family would be in.”
Carly said Ellie’s illness has helped her to see all the good people that exist in the world. She said strangers have sent goodies to Ellie and Noah, while others have held fundraisers benefiting the family. She said friends and family members took Noah swimming or to church when Richard was at work and Carly was in Memphis with Ellie. She also credits Habitat for Hope for allowing the family to live together while all five were in Memphis.
“We lived in a basement apartment on 40 acres of land,” she said. “The family above us worked for Habitat for Hope [and] had four boys, so our kids always had someone to play with and green grass to run in. That family was such a support for us. They also have a child who have been through cancer, so we had so much in common.”
Habitat for Hope will again provide the family with housing during their new stay in Memphis, which began last week.
And recently, the family was visited by the Virginia Chapter of the Pink Heals at their home. The group, transported by pink fire engine, is a group of volunteer firefighters who support women battling cancer.
And the Blaines can’t wait to pay it forward.
“Raising money for cancer research is now so important to me,” Carly said. “My child has a cancer that has no known cure. And it’s not just Ellie’s cancer that doesn’t have a cure, there are so many. When you go to St. Jude and you see just how many kids are there every day, it’s amazing to me that no one has a sure-fire way to cure it, or a way they are pretty sure will make it go away. And that’s just the kids at St. Jude; there are kids at hospitals all over the county and abroad battling cancer.”
To begin giving back, the Blaines participated in the CureSearch Walk Sept. 28 in Charlottesville. The walk raises money for children’s cancer research. The family, joined by 15 other team members, raised more than $3,000, surpassing their team goal of $2,500.
“It’s important for us to do this because there are new children diagnosed with cancer every day and we know the feeling to hear your child has cancer and then hear they don’t know how to make it go away; they just have some options that might fix it,” Carly said. “Without funding for research, more and more families will hear that same thing. People have done so much for us these past seven months and now we are in a place that we can do for others.”
In November, the Blaines will particpate in the St. Jude Give Thanks Walk in Fredericksburg. They’ve raised $1,430 for that walk so far towards their $3,000 fundraising goal.
“St. Jude is trying to save my daughter’s life,” Carly said. “I want to give them all the support we can.”