Fighting The Battle
Posted Jan 19, 2007 by Joyce McKenzie
Updated Jan 19, 2007 at 03:58 PM
RELAY FOR LIFE KICKOFF
IS SLATED FOR JAN. 23
By JOYCE McKENZIE
Eleven-year-old Nicole “Nikki” Hawkins is a child her mother describes as “a girlie girl.”
“She loves to dance and sing, and for as long as I can remember she’s always loved her hair – styling it and even putting it in rollers,” said Nikki’s mother, Penny.
But for now, those pleasures have been put on hold.
Last April 14, Nikki, the daughter of Penny and Howard Hawkins of Tampa, was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a malignant brain tumor. On April 18 she underwent surgery at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg to have the racquetball-sized mass removed.
In the month that followed, Nikki endured 30 days of radiation to her brain, a course of action that is being followed with year-long dosages of chemotherapy – each regimen consisting of one week of in-patient and two weeks of out-patient treatments. After a two-week break she starts the procedure all over again. As a result, she’s lost all of her long, shiny brown hair.
“We try to take it one day at a time,” said Penny, also the mother of two sons ages 2 and 8. “Right now, we’re just blessed to have her.”
Nikki’s illness, Penny said, manifested itself suddenly. At first, she and her husband noticed their daughter, who’s been dancing since the age 3, appeared to be one step behind the rest of her dance troupe.
“We thought maybe they’d just outgrown her so we decided to take her out of dance and just concentrate on her singing with the Tampa Bay Children’s Chorus – she sings like an angel,” Penny said.
But, shortly thereafter, on a day when she and her daughter were planning an Easter shopping trip together, Nikki informed her mother her right arm was numb.
“I said, ‘Don’t worry honey, it’s probably just fallen asleep,’” Penny recalls telling her.
Within minutes Nikki, who was then an honor student, was unable to speak in understandable terms.
Currently, in addition to dealing with her right side imbalance and battling the nausea and fatigue that’s been a byproduct of her chemotherapy, the 56-pound Orange Grove Middle Magnet School sixth-grader must live daily with the inconvenience of carting around a feeding tube, even to school on days she’s feeling up to it and to bed with her each night. She’s hoping to regain the 25 pounds she’s lost throughout the treatments.
“But she never complains,” Penny said. “She says it’s just a bump in her life.”
Tim McDonald of Temple Terrace, who’s serving on the 2007 American Cancer Society Relay for Life committee and for several years had been a board member of the Tampa Bay Children’s Chorus, has come to know Nikki and her family well and knows differently.
“I know it’s been really tough on all of them,” said McDonald, who won the committee’s approval to ask Nikki to serve as the honorary chair of the April 21-22 event at Greco Middle School.
“I just think it’s great because it puts a face on what Relay for Life is showing – that cancer strikes young people as well,” said McDonald, whose two daughters also plan to participate in the event.
Nikki is delighted, Penny said, but doesn’t normally like to be treated “special” because of her disease.
“It feels good that I’m doing it because I want other people to know cancer is something your can get at any age,” Nikki said.
How Relay For Life works
The event, which begins at 6 p.m. and runs through noon the following day, features teams of area service organizations, schools, families and friends who set up tents and enjoy an evening and early morning’s worth of games, entertainment and food.
“Greco Middle School is again proud to host Temple Terrace Relay for Life,” said Principal Judith Kennedy. “Active neighborhood involvement is important to our students, staff and parents and we are proud to be part of the Temple Terrace Chamber of Commerce and the community.”
Team members are encouraged to collect donations, all of which are donated to the American Cancer Society. In turn, the money is used for research, education, advocacy and patient services such as housing, transportation, support groups, wigs, makeup and prosthetic devices.
David Long, chairman of the Temple Terrace Relay for Lif, got involved in the local event four years ago. This is his second time at the helm.
“Why am I a volunteer? A better question is why aren’t more people volunteering,” Long said. “Cancer affects us all. Whether a family member, friend, neighbor or co-worker, we all know someone touched by cancer.”
Co-chairwoman Mindy Devane, who’s also participated in the event for several years, has always been impressed with the community’s support. Each year, Temple Terrace’s Relay for Life has made its goal and accordingly, the ACS has raised it every year.
American Cancer Society community representative Cheryl Hedrick said that because last year’s Temple Terrace event brought in $111,000 – an amount that was among the county’s top-five in money raised – the goal for the 2007 event has been set at $119,000.
“I think our goal is 42 teams, but I’m hoping for closer to 50 teams and $150,000,” Long said.
Devane encourages more area businesses to sign on, either as sponsors or with teams.
“You don’t have to have 10 people in your business to have a team,” she said. “You can have two or three or five and have them enlist their spouses and children and make it a family event.”
Event kickoff Jan. 23
Additional suggestions on how to form teams will be addressed during the 2007 Relay for Life kickoff Jan. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Woodmont Clubhouse, 210 Woodmont Ave. Guests will also be given tools to start or join a team.
Information about the survivors’ lap and dinner, open to all who fought the battle and made it and those currently in the fight, as well as opportunities to contribute to luminaries that will line the school’s track and honor those lost to cancer, also will be discussed.
In addition, Nikki Hawkins will be on hand and 10-year-old Kelsey Oberbroeckling, a fourth-grader at Lewis Elementary School, will present her original speech about Relay for Life that won the school’s top honor in the 4-H Tropicana Public Speaking Contest.
Kelsey’s been a participant in the Temple Terrace event with her family since she was a 5-month-old.
“We’re proud that Kelsey is so involved and she hopes, as we all do, that one day we’ll find a cure for cancer,” said her dad, Russ, last year’s event chairman.
For more details about the event, call Long at 988-4656, Devane at 988-3453 or visit http://www.acsevents.org/relay/fl/templeterrace.