ASHVILLE - Many local families have had to cope with the news that a loved one has cancer, but a strong family network and local organizations can help them navigate through the ordeal.
In October 2012, Azareeyah Eckberg was diagnosed with leukemia. She had started showing symptoms in March of that year, but it took many months and many tests until her family received the official diagnosis.
"No one is ever really prepared to get that news," said Becky Eckberg, Azareeyah's grandmother. "When I got it, it hit me hard. I was overwhelmed with information as far as treatments and what they would entail."
Azareeyah Eckberg was diagnosed with leukemia in October 2012. Through a strong family network and the help of foundations like the Michelle K. Reynolds Memorial Leukemia Fund, her family was able to work through the difficult time. Azareeyah is now in the maintenance phase of her treatment.
According to Eckberg, the entire treatment process for Azareeyah was estimated to take two-and-a-half years. It would involve many trips to Roswell and many procedures.
"The dollar signs started piling up in my head, but then the social workers at the hospitals started telling us about the different foundations that had been established to help families such as ours to deal with the financial and emotional strains that come with having a loved one with cancer," Eckberg continued. "And most of those foundations had been established by families that had lost someone to the disease."
Between the gas, tolls, parking and meals, Eckberg said that the costs began to pile up. Area foundations started coming through for the family, however, with aid in the form of gas cards, bill payments, household goods and Christmas presents.
"The local foundations are the backbone of the support that families dealing with cancer need to be able to rely on," Eckberg said. "National organizations do well at raising money for research, which is greatly needed, but when it comes to helping with the costs of treatments for someone who needs it now, groups such as the Michelle K. Reynolds Fund give what they can to make it possible."
The Michelle K. Reynolds Memorial Leukemia Fund was established by Reynolds' friends and family in 2000, after she passed away from acute myelogenous leukemia in 1999. This fund provides financial and emotional assistance to families with expenses associated with leukemia treatment, such as doctor visits.
"These groups hold fundraisers to be able to provide help," Eckberg said. "The money they raise is used in ongoing battles against diseases. They are in the trenches with the families that need them. They know how hard the battle is."
The Michelle Kay Reynolds Memorial Leukemia Fund will host the 14th annual Fight Leukemia Fest on Sunday at the Llama Club in Ashville from 2-7 p.m. The benefit will help raise funds for families like the Eckbergs who need assistance during the difficult times that are faced following a cancer diagnosis. The event will have food, games and entertainment. Participants will have the opportunity to win a number of prizes including a 50/50 drawing. The event is free and open to the public, and all proceeds will benefit the Michelle Kay Reynolds Memorial Leukemia Fund.
Eckberg also noted how important it is to have a good support network to help with the trips and the setbacks that come with treatment.
"We are fortunate to have family and friends to help us," Eckberg said. "We share the driving for the trips to Roswell. It would be impossible to deal with all the treatments without their help."
Azareeyah's great-grandmother, Jan Eckberg, told The Post-Journal that during her time at Roswell, Azareeyah became very proficient at helping with her bandages and knowing which procedures were coming next for her.
"I always hear of children overcoming severe illnesses referred to as 'strong,' but I never really understood it or had any concept of what that meant," said Adam Eckberg. "Over the past year, we've all had a front-row seat. While it is unfortunate, it has brought us closer together as a family. We have all made sacrifices, some larger than others, but none of us have been tested in the way Azareeyah has been. She truly is one of the strongest people I know."
Donations to the Michelle Kay Reynolds Memorial Leukemia Fund can be made at the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, 418 Spring St., Jamestown, or at crcfonline.org.