Local family tries to see silver lining during difficult times of illness

August 24, 2011|By DAN DEARTH |
  • Allison Pinieski has been diagnosed with Burkitt's lymphoma, a cancer that causes cells in the lymphatic system to abnormally reproduce.
Submitted photo

Lindsay Pinieski said she was devastated a little more than a year ago when her husband, Zack, was diagnosed with cancer.

But things started to look brighter after chemotherapy treatments drove the disease into remission.

The Hagerstown family’s fortunes changed again on July 1, when Zack lost his job as an aircraft modifier at Sierra Nevada. The Pinieskis were hit even harder a few days later when their youngest daughter, 2-year-old Allison, got sick during a family trip to Port Discovery in Baltimore.

Lindsay Pinieski said they initially thought that Allison, whose family calls her Alli, had a stomach bug. But when her skin and the whites of her eyes turned yellow, they took her to Meritus Medical Center, where doctors suggested that she see a specialist.

After bouncing between Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., and Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore, doctors diagnosed Alli with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a cancer that causes cells in the lymphatic system to abnormally reproduce.

Lindsay Pinieski said doctors found a tumor in Allison’s liver and smaller tumors in her stomach.


“The doctors started treatment almost immediately in order to shrink the tumors that had peppered her entire abdomen,” Lindsay Pinieski said.

Shortly after Allison was diagnosed, Washington County Public Schools officials told her she couldn’t take a leave of absence from her teaching job, Lindsay Pinieski said. As a result, Lindsay resigned to be with her sick daughter, she said.

Donna Newcomer, the school system’s director of human resources and professional learning, said Lindsay Pinieski wasn’t a contracted teacher, and by law, wasn’t eligible to take a leave of absence.

“We are using the donations that are coming in, and we’re drawing from Zack’s 401(k) from his old job,” Lindsay Pinieski said. “We had to file for bankruptcy. We try to keep a positive outlook. We try to see the good in it.”

Lindsay said her parents and Zack’s parents have been a big help by taking care of their 4-year-old daughter Anna while they stay with Allison in the hospital.

Allison started grueling chemotherapy treatments on July 20, Lindsay Pinieski said. The treatments last for 10 days, followed by three weeks of rest. Although chemotherapy shrank the tumors by about 80 percent, Allison had problems with renal functions, and her heart and respiratory rates.

Lindsay Pinieski said Allison misses her sister and grandparents and doesn’t understand why she has to stay at the hospital.

Allison came home the weekend of Aug. 12, but she developed a fever and was taken to Meritus Medical Center. At one point, her fever topped 105 degrees. An ambulance drove her back to Johns Hopkins, where she was admitted to the emergency room. Allison was moved to the oncology floor on Aug. 14, when she began to vomit blood.

Zack Pinieski said Allison’s vomiting was a reaction to her chemotherapy. Her caregivers said Allison probably would experience side effects until she finishes her treatment.

“It’s constant screaming,” Zack Pinieski said. “She’s half asleep, half conscious. She’s fighting.”

Allison’s brain began to swell last week when she contracted spinal meningitis, Lindsay Pinieski said. She had to have an emergency procedure to relieve the pressure on her brain.

Things looked a little brighter Tuesday when Allison was able to have a conversation with her mother and father. She even had a little excitement when the earthquake struck while she was undergoing an exam.

Lindsay Pinieski said Allison’s cancer treatments have been put on the back burner so doctors can focus on treating the meningitis.

“We just have to be patient,” Lindsay Pinieski said. “It’s going to be a long road.”  

Fundraisers for Alli

Several fundraisers have been scheduled to raise money for Allison Pinieski’s medical bills, including:

What: LemonAid for Alli.

When: Friday, 2 to 6 p.m.

Where: Sharpsburg Pike and Lyles Drive (near Food Lion).


What: Alli’s 3rd Birthday Fundraiser.

When: Sept. 10, doors open at 5 p.m., dinner starts at 6 p.m.

Where: Next Dimensions, 132 Old National Pike.

Cost: $30 includes chicken marsala dinner, cash bar, 50-50 raffle, silent auction, tip jars, chuckaluck wheel and a disc jockey. To purchase tickets, call 301-739-2121, or visit

Donations may also be made to “Alli’s Fund” at Susquehanna Bank. Checks may be sent to Lindsay and Zack Pinieski at P.O. Box 842, Hagerstown, MD  21741.

For more information, see

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