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Battling leukemia, 5-year-old Emily wishes for a playhouse

Written by Vicky Taylor, Public Opinion Online | Oct 19, 2015 4:15 PM
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Emily Schmidt, 5, a cancer patient, receives an outdoor playhouse from Make-A-Wish Foundation on Saturday, complete with front porch and loft. She hopes to one day have a sleepover in the loft. (Ryan Blackwell -- Public Opinion)

(Fayetteville) -- Five-year-old Emily, battling childhood leukemia, had just one wish when Make-A-Wish Foundation came to her house recently: She wanted a playhouse.

She knew her wish was going to be granted and knew the playhouse was going to be delivered Saturday, but when she got out of her grandparent's van that afternoon and saw the crowd of well-wishers waiting for her, she shyly clung to her mother.

Mom Anna Robison leaned down and told her it was okay, everyone was there to help her celebrate the big unveiling of the playhouse that had been set up in the backyard while she was visiting relatives that morning.

She brightened, but still looked a little wary, until she caught her first glimpse of the pink child-sized house with its front porch and swing, and a big stuffed dog donated by the local Aaron's rent-to-own center sitting at the porch railing waiting for her.

Emily's wish had come true. The playhouse was finally here and it was all hers.

Emily suffers from childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of leukemia in which the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes (a type of while blood cell).

Because of the diagnosis and the chemotherapy she has been undergoing for the last six months, Emily was not able to start kindergarten this fall and has to be pretty well protected from contact with many strangers, even strangers her own age, when she is at home.

Because her immune system is compromised, both from the leukemia and the chemo treatments, her mother homeschools her, but the hope is that once she gets into the maintenance phase of treatment next month she might be able to join children her own age in kindergarten, probably sometime after the first of the year.

She is excited about that prospect.

Meanwhile, she tries to learn everything other kindergarteners are learning, plays with her two kittens Oliver and Dodger, does a lot of drawing and art projects and helps her mother, a chef, in the kitchen.

She shyly tells a reporter that she thinks she would like to be an artist or a chef when she grows up, or perhaps work with horses.

Emily was diagnosed with leukemia last March, after being sent for tests when she developed a fever that over a period of a few days kept getting worse and worse.

Within four days of the time the fever first started, her mother, Anna, and step-father, Jeff, were told their little girl might have leukemia and advised that they take her to Penn State Milton Hershey Medical Center.

A bone marrow test there confirmed the diagnosis.

"It was in the early stages so they started chemo the next day, and at that point our life changed drastically," Anna said.

Emily had been very active before the diagnosis, taking karate and ballet lessons, helping in the garden and enjoying frequent jumps on her trampoline, but that lifestyle came to an abrupt end.

Because of the disease and its treatment, Emily's resistance to infection was so low all summer that the family pretty much stayed at home and were in a "protect Emily" mode.

"At first we had a lot of weeks when (Emily) didn't have much energy, so she would sit and color," Anna said.

She did a lot of art projects and had picnics on the trampoline instead of jumping on it.

Eventually as she felt better, she started drawing her own pictures and has developed a flair for that, often offering her free-hand drawings to others.

As for her therapy, Anna says Emily just came out of the toughest phase of her chemotherapy treatments, a phase in which she lost all of her hair.

That is something that doesn't seem to bother Emily. She just shrugs and says "it's okay."

Her treatments will be dropped back to once a month next month as she begins a two-year maintenance phase.

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Emily Schmidt, 5, a cancer patient, receives an outdoor playhouse from Make-A-Wish Foundation on Saturday. Various companies donated their time and materials to build the playhouse of Emily's dreams, based on specs she provided. (Ryan Blackwell -- Public Opinion)

Emily's wish

When approached by Make-A-Wish about their program, Emily and her parents went over all the options, including the ever popular Disney World trip, but the spunky little girl was firm in expressing her desire for "something I could keep."

She has a big doll house in her bedroom, but she had been wanting an outdoor playhouse for a while, and she had definite ideas about what she wanted it to look like: Pink with a purple roof, a loft where she hopes she can someday have a friend over for a sleepover, and a front porch.

"No problem," she was told by Make-A-Wish volunteers.

Emily drew a picture of what she wanted and the playhouse was custom built to her specifications, except for the purple roof. Apparently roof shingles don't come in purple.

"That's okay," Emily said, giving the entire house and its furnishing her stamp of approval Saturday. While the playhouse was being built, several local businesses and individuals went to work obtaining furnishings for it.

When she heard about the project, another 5-year-old, Barlee Wright, wanted to donate her child-sized vanity to the cancer victim, although the two little girls didn't know each other.

Aaron's donated a television and video player to go on the TV stand Eric and Alisha Poe donated. Aaron's also provided a rug for the floor and the big stuffed dog that sat on the porch Saturday waiting for Emily's arrival.

Palmer's Construction provided a child-sized easy chair, table and lamp. Leidy's Woodworking of Mercersburg built a custom kitchen for the playhouse, complete with a fridge, sink and stove. Meadows Frozen Custard also helped with the project.

"We have been so blessed with this project, it's awesome," said Make-A-Wish volunteer Heidi Newman. "So many businesses and people have been so supportive."

Ronald Grissom, general manager of Aaron's and his sales manager Sharon Roa were on hand for the playhouse unveiling. They brought a large donation of coloring books with them for Emily and her parents to take to Hershey on their next trip to distribute among other children being treated there.

He called the playhouse project "awesome," and said he encourages other businesses to become involved in similar projects.

"Anything that fulfills the wish of a child is wonderful, especially a sick child," he said.

About childhood cancer

September was Childhood Cancer Month, and Anna and Jeff Robison have become passionate about supporting research aimed to learning more about and finding better treatments for the disease.

"Emily's leukemia has been an education for me," Anna said. "I didn't know anything about cancer before she got sick."

Once she and Jeff got over the shock of finding that their little girl had leukemia, Anna went to work learning everything she could about the disease.

"Only 4 percent of the money for cancer research goes toward childhood cancer research," she said.

These childhood cancer facts come from the Coalition Against Childhood Cancer:

• The incidence of childhood cancer is on the increase, averaging a 0.6-percent increase per year since the mid-1970s, resulting in an overall increase of 24 percent over the last 40 years.

• Childhood cancer is not one disease -- there are 16 major types of pediatric cancers and over 100 subtypes.

• The average five-year survival rate for childhood cancers when considered as a whole is 83 percent.

• Cancer survival rates vary not only depending upon the type of cancer, but also upon individual factors attributable to each child.

• Survival rates can range from almost 0 percent for cancers such as DIPG, a type of brain cancer, to as high as 90 percent for the most common type of childhood cancer known as acute lymphoma leukemia (ALL).

• The average survival rate not including children with ALL is 80 percent.

• In 2010 there were 379,112 childhood cancer survivors in the United States.

Vicky Taylor can be reached at 717-262-4754 or 717-881-5373


This article comes to us through a partnership between Public Opinion Online and WITF. 

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