The Hutchinson News: Cheerleader tackles life changes after leukemia diagnosis
12.19.16 · Greteman Group
It was Tuesday and Hutchinson High had a home game that night, but cheerleader Kiley Flanagan wasn’t there.
Instead she was wrapped in a fleece giraffe-print blanket, curled on her side in a hospital bed as chemo-drugs slowly dripped into a catheter in her chest. A nurse was preparing to transfer her to Wesley Medical Center’s pediatric intensive care unit where she would remain for several days.
In Kiley’s fight against acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the medical staff first inject her with a high dose of methotrexate, which remains in her system for 24 hours. However, because it’s dangerous to her organs, they spend 48 hours flushing it out of her system, explained Kiley’s mother Tamera Simpson, Arlington.
“It’s a whole new world,” said Simpson, a single-parent, as she remained close to her daughter’s bedside helping her to get comfortable.
Nearby was a three-inch thick binder filled with every lab number, medication, and hospital visit Kiley has experienced since July 29 when she was diagnosed with the disease.
Holding up the hefty tome Simpson said, “This notebook has become our life.”
Kiley, 15, is a relatively new face at Hutchinson High School, transferring from Fairfield High last spring semester during her freshman year. She ran track and made Hutch High’s cheer squad.
Being a cheerleader is something Kiley loves. She was on the squad at Fairfield and has participated competitively in the past.
She attended cheer camp during the summer, however things changed drastically for Kiley on July 29 when she was diagnosed with acute leukemia. The discovery began after she went to the emergency room for a nose bleed that wouldn’t stop until it was cauterized several hours later. Then it happened again less than 24 hours later, and she headed back to the ER.
“They did some lab work and said they couldn’t handle it and sent her to Wesley in an ambulance,” Simpson said. Quickly it was determined she had leukemia and treatment began immediately.
There have been many setbacks over the past months, including a stress fracture above her knee because her bones have weakened.
“She use to be so active,” Simpson said. “It brings her down to be so weak.”
Following chemo in September she was flown to Kansas City’s Children’s Mercy Hospital with a form of pancreatitis that left 25 percent of the tissue dead. It’s one of the downsides of the chemo medication.
Kiley was in the hospital in Kansas City for three and a half weeks, which put chemotherapy on hold, while they waited for her pancreas to heal.
Because she couldn’t keep any foods down, a feeding tube was surgically inserted into her stomach. Kiley says it looks like a flower. But it is uncomfortable. However, now she can get heavy duty nutrition around the clock her mother said, and she seems to be regaining some strength.
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Kiley’s nurse, Terri Griffin, bantered with her as she assembled the IV drugs.
“I’m her favorite,” Griffin said with a smile. Kiley rolled her eyes in disagreement.
“She’s spunky,” Griffin said smiling at the red-headed teenager.
Going through such an ordeal would be tough for an adult, Simpson said, “but for a kid it’s pretty intense.”
On this day while her friends were attending class, cheer practice, and a basketball game Kiley was trying to get through the treatment that makes her nauseous, weak and miserable.
It drags her down, but Simpson says she’ll come back up for a week and a half, before she has to start over again with treatments.
Visits from two older sisters — Keegan Dougherty and Kiara Flanagan — who bring along her 20-month-old niece Audrey Dougherty bring a smile to her face.
She also had a surprise visit from several cheerleaders and chatted with friends this past week.
“Kiley absolutely is still a part of our team and in our thoughts daily,” said Ashleigh Vieyra, coach of the HHS cheerleaders. After she was diagnosed in July she did continue to practice and participate with squad as she could.
“Going through her treatments has been hard for her to continue actively participating, but as she is able to she attends any events that she can physically attend.
“She is a very kind, hardworking girl and we are pulling for her,” Vieyra said.
On Tuesday she was beginning the second treatment for the third phase of a four-phase regimen that her doctors hope will move her into remission so that she can have a bone marrow transplant in early 2017. The transplant offers a better chance the leukemia won’t return.
For now they hope to be home for Christmas. But they can’t plan that far ahead.
“Nobody understands the extent of all the treatment until they are in the situation,” Simpson said.
So it’s the simple things that others do for Kiley that mean so much to her and her mother. She was feeling groggy as the chemotherapy was beginning its slow drip.
“Mrs. Rice came to see me,” Kiley said, perking up and smiling, remembering how the Iron Riderz came to visit when she was in the hospital the previous Sunday. They brought gifts, and Paula Rice, assistant principal at HHS, was with this group.
“It worked out well that I was able to coordinate with Tamera to give her a heads up that we were in that group. It was great to see Kiley,” Rice said.
Rice tries to help students who cannot attend school for various reasons stay as connected as possible.
“They need to know that they are not alone and that HHS is with them in their fight. When we cannot personally visit, we find a way.”
For example this week a parent volunteered to drive two of the senior cheerleaders down with a few surprises for Kiley.
“The rest of us called her via FaceTime. It was great for them to see and talk with her, and I know that she enjoyed it also.”
Rice said, “ Our Communities in Schools program, under the guidance of Nikkee Byard, does an Angel Tree gifting program every year for HHS students who may be in need of a little extra. Thanks to Nikkee and some amazing volunteers and great donors, Kiley received the first of two rounds of Christmas presents from the Angel Tree. I have another very large bag of gifts for her that I hope to take to Wichita on Saturday.”
“Unfortunately,” Rice said, “ HHS has several students who struggle on a daily basis with chronic illness.
“Right now, our focus is on allowing her to heal. We will be so thankful when she is able to return.”
This is the fourth year that Healing Waters Wichita offered to pamper selected parents of children in the pediatric unit at Wesley Medical Center during December.
Nurses at Wesley chose Kiley Flanagan’s family to be the first to experience the “Holiday Healing” relaxation and restorative spa services.
When Kiley’s mother, Tamera Simpson, heard the news that they had been selected she almost started to cry, said Carol Farrow, a spokesperson for Healing Waters.
“It was great and much needed,” said Tamera Simpson, who is a rural Reno County volunteer firefighter.
Those who want to keep up with Kiley or show support can find updates at facebook.com KileysFight They can also help through a GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/2h6jhrw
Reported by Kathy Hanks in the December 19th issue of The Hutchinson News.