Penny, Halle and Ciera
Halle Williams-Seip, daughter of Decatur residents Ciera Williams and Nick Seip, is one of two honorary co-chairs chosen by the Adams County Relay for Life Committee to walk the first lap at this year's event at Adams Central June 24-25.
Halle, who is now three years old, was diagnosed with medulloblastoma just weeks after her first birthday. Medulloblastoma is a rapidly-growing brain tumor that originates in the cerebellum.
In November of 2008, Halle's family took her to a physician because she was exhibiting flu-like symptoms. As the weeks went on, Halle's symptoms worsened. She was falling down, withdrawn, lethargic and vomiting more frequently.
Doctors continued to tell Halle's family that she just had a persistent flu bug and that her symptoms were "typical for her age." But Halle's family instinctively knew it was something more serious, so they took her to the emergency room at a Fort Wayne hospital on Nov. 23, 2008.
At the hospital, a physician's assistant gave Halle IV fluids for dehydration and sent her home, dismissing a request by her grandmother, Penny Williams, that they do an MRI. Because Halle's symptoms still did not improve, they went back to the ER the following evening.
This time, said Penny, "I became very stubborn and refused to leave until they scanned her head. I knew something was wrong; I've been a mother for a long time. If your gut is telling you there's something wrong, you have to push it."
The MRI revealed that Halle had a mass on the back of her brain with bleeding and swelling. Halle and her mother were airlifted to Riley Hospital in Indianapolis early the morning of November 25.
At 3:30 p.m. that same day, Halle underwent a 10-hour surgery at Riley to remove the grapefruit-size tumor, which they later learned was medulloblastoma.
After 10 days in the intensive care unit at Riley, Halle was moved to the fifth floor cancer center, where she had six chemotherapy treatments over the course of a year.
According to Ciera, chemotherapy treatments caused all of Halle's bone marrow to die. Because she needed new bone marrow to grow in order to survive, on May 15, 2009 she underwent a stem cell transplant using her own stem cells.
Penny said that when someone goes through a stem cell transplant, "It's like they're taking you right to death's door, and you have to hope that child or that person has the willpower to survive while we wait for the cells to grow."
Ciera said, "As soon as you get a stem cell transplant you are considered to be in remission."
"It's like you're born again," added Penny. "They even have a birthday party for you at Riley."
After Halle has celebrated two cancer-free birthdays, Penny said, "She is a happy, fun kid." And, other than the golf ball-size scar on the back of her head, one might not realize that Halle has "accomplished so much in her short little life," said Penny.
Halle had a spinal fusion in her neck this past January to fix two vertebrae that were pinching her spinal cord, a side effect from her original surgery. Because of the problem, Halle wore a neck brace from October of 2010 to May of 2011.
Halle will undergo another surgery in August to remove titanium rods and screws in order to get a better MRI reading.
Penny admitted that going through this journey with her daughter and her granddaughter has been a "very intense time, but you pray a lot and trust God that we are cancer free. You realize just how fragile life is," she said. "It can be taken away in a second."
During the course of diagnosis, treatment, recovery and surgeries, Penny said their family has kept a positive attitude.
"To win at this, you have to be positive. It's not something you can choose. You have to do it. It's not optional."
As Halle was going through cancer treatments around Christmastime, her family played a CD by Casting Crowns "constantly." Ciera and Penny said the music was "an inspiration," and they played it as they held Halle and rocked her day in and day out.
"We don't want to say we're fighters. We are believers. We believe in miracles," said Penny.
Penny and Ciera said they are honored that Halle was chosen to be part of this year's Adams County Relay for Life event as an honorary co-chair. "Halle has brought such inspiration to so many people. She gives everybody strength," Penny said.