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Join forces to send Chessie to Disney

August 05, 1999

All Chessie Fox has ever wanted, her mother says, is to go to Disneyland and to meet her idol, country music singer Reba McEntire. Those don't sound like impossible dreams, but for Chessie, making either come true will require more help than her family can provide.

That's because the 25-year-old Hagerstown woman has been battling Hodgkins disease for four years. The disease, a form of cancer that begins in the body's lymph nodes, has forced her to undergo repeated treatments that caused her hair to fall out and many of her teeth as well. It almost seems too much to bear when you consider that she's also mentally handicapped, with the intellectual age of a young teenager.

Chessie's plight first came to my attention when her mother, Carolyn Dawson, wrote a letter to the editor, complaining that she was unable to get help from local non-profit agencies, apparently because she and her husband make a little bit too much money.

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Readers called me after the letter appeared, asking how they could help, but expressing the hope that I could somehow verify that the plight described was genuine. It took me a while, but I've done that, in an interview with Dr. Michael McCormack, Chessie's doctor.

McCormack, an oncologist at the Robinwood Medical Center, said that Chessie has "a very serious disease."

She's not in a great deal of pain, McCormack said, but she does have difficulty breathing. A week at a Disney theme park might be too much, he said, but a few days would probably be OK, he said.

"I think that would probably be a wonderful thing for her," he said.

Considering what her mother says she's been through, it seems like a Disneyworld trip should be the least she gets.

Chessie's mother said her daughter first got sick in 1995, but wasn't diagnosed conclusively until August of 1996 when Dr. McCormack did a biopsy. Soon after, Dawson said, they removed a lymph node on the left side of her chest and installed a central line catheter in her chest, to draw blood and to apply chemotherapy.

By February 1997, Dawson said, Chessie was in remission, but in March began the first of 17 radiation treatments, which kept the disease at bay until that December.

That's when Chessie began a regimen of chemotherapy, her mother said, that was repeated every three weeks and lasted for eight straight days each time. By August of 1998, Chessie's disease was in remission again, though she'd lost all of her hair.

That proved to be only a short respite, because by December the cancer was back, and the doctors put her on a regimen of oral chemotherapy, delivered three times per day.

This short account of what happened to Chessie doesn't include all the blood transfusions and the trips to an out-of-town dentist to repair teeth damaged by all of her therapy.

"During chemotherapy, everything in her mouth just disintegrated," she said.

The family is paying its bills, Dawson said, but it's tough because although Citicorp has generously allowed her to take time off when Chessie needs care, Dawson doesn't get paid when she's not on the job.

To raise money for Chessie's hoped-for trip, theere's going to be a $25-a-couple dinner dance on Saturday, Sept. 4, at the Williamsport Fire Hall. The doors will open at 4:30 p.m., Dawson said, with dinner served at 6 p.m. and dancing with a deejay until midnight.

If that's not your cup of tea, or you're unable to attend, you can still help by making a donation to the Chessie Fox Trust Fund, Account No. 081464076, at any branch of Home Federal Savings Bank.

Despite all that she's been through, Dawson said Chessie still manages to smile and steel herself for the next round in her battle with cancer.

"Her spirits are wonderful. There are days when she gets depressed, but I tell her every night that we will beat this, no matter what," she said, adding that faith is the one thing that's sustained them through this ordeal.

"I just can't explain to anybody how rough it was, or how rough it can become. It wasn't the doctors who made my child better, it was the grace of God," Dawson said.

Every parent in the world has had the experience of nursing a child through a fever or a bad cold. When relief finally comes, and the fever breaks or the breathing that was labored becomes regular and easy again, you sigh, relieved that for now at least, you've helped your child get better. Carolyn Dawson's been trying to help her child heal for four years. Please think about how much more fortunate your family is, and help Chessie if you can.




Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

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