With leukemia beat, she’s ready for first grade

After years of troubles, one Brides­burg fam­ily has a lot to be thank­ful for — 7-year-old Ju­lia is cel­eb­rat­ing the one-year an­niversary of the date she was de­clared of­fi­cially cured of can­cer.

It is likely one of the hard­est things any par­ent ever has to hear.

“Your child has can­cer.”

Brides­burg’s Dawn Labb heard that fate­ful phrase more than five years ago. Today, she can proudly say that she helped her 7-year-old daugh­ter, Ju­lia, main­tain a nor­mal child­hood while fight­ing off leuk­emia.

Ju­lia will soon hit the one-year an­niversary of her of­fi­cial “cured” date.

“May 17, 2012, was her of­fi­cial cured date,” Dawn Labb said last week, with pride in her voice. “Five years in re­mis­sion is defined as of­fi­cially cured, and she’s at her five years. She’s sev­en now, she plays soc­cer, she’s in the first grade.”

Now, little Ju­lia and her loved ones will cel­eb­rate.

To­mor­row, Labb, a cre­den­tial­ing co­ordin­at­or at St. Chris­toph­er’s Hos­pit­al for Chil­dren in Ju­ni­ata Park, is hold­ing a St. Patrick’s Day party in the hos­pit­al’s on­co­logy unit with the group of friends who have sup­por­ted her since she re­cieved her daugh­ter’s dif­fi­cult dia­gnos­is.

The party will be in the clin­ic, Labb said, so it doubles as an activ­ity for oth­er chil­dren who are cur­rently get­ting chemo­ther­apy or get­ting their pro­ced­ures done. “They get good food, there’s a ma­gi­cian, they can make a T-shirt.”

Labb has ex­per­i­enced first-hand how dif­fi­cult a child­hood dia­gnos­is of can­cer can be. She helped Ju­lia through two years and nine months of chemo­ther­apy treat­ment and reg­u­lar check-ups, watched her daugh­ter lose her hair, and stood by her while Ju­lia had a sur­gic­al “port” in­stalled in her body for her fre­quent in­tra­ven­ous in­jec­tions.

That’s part of why she and her friends have star­ted this small group to raise money for can­cer re­search.

“When Ju­lia first got dia­gnosed in 2007, my girl­friends wanted to do something, like a beef-and-beer,” Labb re­called. “I said ‘No, I don’t really want to do that, but if you want to do something, let’s raise money and let’s do something at the clin­ic.’ So that’s how we got star­ted.”

Now Labb’s group of friends reg­u­larly par­ti­cip­ates in the Cure­Search Walk fun­draiser, and also holds com­munity bake sales at the Brides­burg Re­cre­ation Cen­ter.

The sup­port helped Labb get through the three years of act­ive treat­ment – while staff in the St. Chris­toph­er’s on­co­logy unit be­came her “ex­ten­ded fam­ily,” she said.

“I was an em­ploy­ee here, iron­ic­ally, when Ju­les got dia­gnosed,” Labb said.

While she knew the doc­tors as co-work­ers, she said she didn’t re­ceive spe­cial treat­ment – and was just as lucky as any­one to get her daugh­ter dia­gnosed so early.

Back in 2007, at age 1 and a half, Ju­lia was get­ting ear in­fec­tions that wouldn’t go away, Labb re­called, and she said it was also strange that her daugh­ter didn’t really want to walk.

“One morn­ing, we woke up, and her face and feet were swollen so bad – so we went to the emer­gency room,” Labb said.

A few hours later, blood work test res­ults came back. Ju­lia had B-cell leuk­emia, blood can­cer that be­gins in the bone mar­row.

Labb and her hus­band, Bill, a mail­man, had to re­arrange their sched­ules to care for Ju­lia in ad­di­tion to her two older broth­ers. The first six months re­quired a lot of time in the hos­pit­al, Labb said.

“We handled it the best we could – one of us would stay with her, and the oth­er would go home with the boys and we would switch, and when he would leave for work from the hos­pit­al, I would be here at sev­en. Some­body had to stay work­ing,” Labb said. “Look­ing back, it’s al­most like it was sur­real — but it did hap­pen.”

There were par­tic­u­larly tough mo­ments – days when they had to grind up Ju­lia’s medi­cine to make it easi­er for her to take, and when she had to go through a spin­al tap pro­ced­ure.

Gradu­ally, they were able to start giv­ing Ju­lia nor­mal child­hood ex­per­i­ences, tak­ing her to play­grounds and the beach, and sign­ing her up for preschool.

“We def­in­itely tried our best to keep it as nor­mal as we could for her,” Labb said. “It was up and down. But for the most part, we could keep her on point with what was hap­pen­ing in her life.”

In fact, that be­came Labb’s philo­sophy to get through her daugh­ter’s ill­ness: tak­ing it one day at a time.

“You tend to take it day by day and try to hope for the best res­ult in that day. You do what you can do.”

“For­tu­nately,” she con­tin­ued, “Things turned out won­der­ful.”

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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