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Cancer survivors celebrate life

June 09, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

A bright and bubbly 7-year-old, Emma Worthington is proud that she can spell out her rather long last name.

Her mom, Charee Worthington, is no slouch either, rattling off "rhabdomyosarcoma" without any hesitation. The Smithsburg woman said the hard part isn't spelling, but living with, the form of cancer that attacked her daughter's muscles three years ago.

"They told us it actually began before Emma was born," said Charee Worthington as she attended Sunday afternoon's 16th annual event for cancer survivors hosted by the John R. Marsh Cancer Center, a department of Washington County Hospital.

The symptoms were repeated ear infections, all in Emma's right ear, her mother said. Then at 4 p.m. Feb. 9, 2000, Emma was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma at Washington County Hospital. By 6 p.m. that day, Jason and Charee Worthington were at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore with their daughter.

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"That's a day I'll never forget," Charee Worthington said. Over the course of the treatment, she said they almost lost Emma three times.

Just 4 then, Emma was at Johns Hopkins for 29 days. She eventually underwent 43 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation, and still is under care, according to her mother.

Emma, who has a 6-year-old brother, Wyatt, said she currently is homeschooled, working at the second- to third-grade level.

Despite a scare in February, Emma is cancer-free, her mother said.

"Still every pain, every sneeze and you think, 'oh no, it's back again,'" Charee Worthington said.

Emma proudly wore a pin Sunday proclaiming she is a 21/2-year cancer survivor.

"Most of the kids I knew at Hopkins didn't make it," Emma said.

The emphasis Sunday was on those who did make it as more than 600 people - survivors and their families - gathered at the picnic pavilion at Williamsport Red Men Lodge 84.

Also in attendance were some of the staff from Washington County Hospital and the John R. Marsh Cancer Center.

"It's important. We have to keep doing it," said Patty Hanson, administrator of the John R. Marsh Cancer Center. "In the wake of budget cuts, nobody even thought of cutting back on this event."

Last year's event was an ice cream social held on one of the hottest days of the summer, Hanson said. This year, the decision was made to make it a picnic catered by the Red Men.

Each year, the event is free to cancer survivors and one guest per survivor, though registration is required. Additional guests pay a small fee.

"I'm glad I survived," said Ruth Hetzel, 76, of Hagerstown. "I'm still in pain, but I'm here with my family and friends. Survival, after all, means everything."

Sondra Kimble attended with her father, Joseph Hart, who is a 15-month survivor of skin cancer.

"I still have my dad because of the treatment available today," Kimble said. "I just thank God he went to the doctor."

One survivor's button read "51-year survivor," while others were tabulated in months.

Over and over, the greeting heard most frequently Sunday afternoon was "nice to see you," and the enthusiastic reply was, "it's nice to be here."

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