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Local toddler fights cancer

By By Suzanne Digmon Staff writer
Little McKenzie Rolin is going to be spending a lot more time away from home than most children her age. The 15-month-old daughter of Johnny Rolin and Ashley Lowe, born August 13 in Monroe County, McKenzie was recently diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a form of cancer, and started chemotherapy last week at University of South Alabama Women's and Children's Hospital.
On Oct. 25, Lowe took McKenzie to Atmore Community Hospital when the infant failed to recover from what seemed to be a cold. "We thought she had the flu, so we took her to Atmore (Community Hospital) to get some antibiotics." Dr. Stacy Upshaw sent McKenzie by ambulance to USA Women's and Children's Hospital, where she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.
A seemingly healthy child, McKenzie's family had no idea there was a cancer growing inside her precious little body. Doctors found a tumor growing around her right lung, covering it completely. "It's as big as a grapefruit. Luckily they (the oncologists at USA) found it before it spread to her bones," Lowe said. Although the tumor had not spread, if it had not been caught in the nick of time, spurs growing from it would have reached her spine, causing much greater damage.
The most common cancer in infants younger than 1 year of age, tumors originate anywhere along the base of the neck to the tailbone. Each year, one in 100,000 children in the United States develops neuroblastoma. It accounts for 50 percent of all malignancies encountered in infants and causes 7-10 percent of childhood cancers. Infants with neuroblastoma have a much higher chance of cure than older children, though there is no known reason for this occurrence.
Surgery is usually curative, but in many cases like McKenzie's in which the tumor spreads to other parts of the body, chemotherapy is the mainstay of treatment. She underwent her first chemo treatment Nov. 4, in which she was admitted at USA for 4 days. She will have chemotherapy treatments every 3 weeks, for a total of 16 weeks. Treatments force McKenzie to be hospitalized four days at a time, which means that she will be away from her home and possibly from her family, unless they stay with her in Mobile.
Friends and family have been hard at work since the diagnosis, raising money so that McKenzie's parents can be with her during her chemotherapy treatments. "We have medicaid, but that doesn't pay for everything," Lowe said. Her antibiotic shots alone, necessary after each chemo treatment, are $200 a day, adding up to $2,000 per session. The family income has suffered, as Rolin and Lowe have both experienced layoffs from their jobs over the last year because of downturns in the economy. Times are hard, and the cost of accommodations close to McKenzie for four days every few weeks adds up quickly.
A benefit to help the family with the cost of their stays during the weeks of chemo was held Nov. 6 and 7, in Poarch. Tonya Rolin, Virginia Bell Godwin, Diane Rolin, Sheila Lowe, Bonnie Rolin, Lois Rolin, Corey Vickery, Willonette Hammond, and Necole Rolin all showed their love by helping put the chicken/ fish fry together. Sheila Lowe, sister of Ashley Lowe, said, "We're all so close; we'll just say we're family," as she began the clean up after the first day of the benefit. After expenses, including food, materials, and labor, the family raised $1,500 for McKenzie. Another benefit, organized by Linda Parker and Ellen O'Barr, is set to take place in January.
Coping with McKenzie's illness has been quite a challenge for her family. "It was a shock. It drives us crazy, our lives aren't the same anymore. We live in isolation," Lowe said. Since the prognosis, she must wear gloves when changing McKenzie's diapers, as well as a surgical mask when changing the baby's bandages on her chest where a Hickman catheter is inserted. "We have to think twice about every thing we do now; we have to double check each and every step we take," Lowe added. McKenzie's medications must be refrigerated, and she must be taken immediately to USA if even the most minor aspect of her health changes.
Lowe and Rolin are grateful to all who helped with and donated to McKenzie's benefit, as well as Dr. Stacy Upshaw at Atmore Community Hospital. "She saved my baby's life," Lowe said. They are extremely grateful to the oncologists at USA, Drs. Yih-Ming Yang and Felicia Wilson, who are part of St. Jude's Hospital and travel all over Alabama working with pediatric cancer patients.