Cancer-free diagnosis gives youngster new lease on life

John Dupont
Jessi Carline, 10, is now cancer free after more than two years of chemotherapy for treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

The official last day of the Christmas season brought a 10-year-old Plaquemine resident the greatest gift she and her family could ever imagine.

Jessi Carline underwent her final round of chemotherapy Jan. 6, more than two years after she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  The end of treatments also opened the gate for her return to normal daily activities.

The daughter of Vance and Brooke Carline is among those who will celebrate their survival from cancer at the annual Iberville Parish Relay for Life celebration.

Proceeds from the event will go to the American Cancer Society.

Festivities begin tomorrow (Friday) at 5 p.m. and continue through 5 a.m. Saturday at the event’s new home, the C.M. “Mike” Zito Multipurpose Center. Food, games, music and testimonials will highlight the event.

For Jessi, the Relay celebration marks another step away from an illness that curtailed activities for much of the last two years.

She has used the last two months to get back in sync with the life she enjoyed prior to treatment.

“Right now, she’s trying to do everything she couldn’t do,” Brooke Carline said.

She was diagnosed with the illness after months of illness, fever and fatigue.

Brooke and Jessi made frequent visits to a pediatrician for lab work hoping to peg the cause of the illness.

“The results of her blood work were out of whack,” Brooke said. “But there was no signal of anything.”

Doctors made the diagnosis after the third round of blood tests. She spent eight weeks at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis before she was transferred to an affiliate facility at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center.

Treatment entailed chemotherapy on a weekly basis for 2 ½ years. It also involved bone marrow aspiration.

“That was the toughest part,” Jessi said. “I hated being put to sleep.”

To keep Jessi happy during her treatment, child life specialists at St. Jude’s brought her crafts and toys.

“They even let us paint on the windows of our hospital rooms,” she said.

Seven weeks of treatment brought Jessi into remission.

“She’s made all the milestones and all the lab work came out good,” Brooke said. “All the testing was favorable for the cancer not returning.”

Jessi celebrated her 10th birthday Jan. 10 knowing that she was officially cancer-free.

She still has to make trips every six months to Memphis for lab work. If she remains cancer-free for five years, she will be officially deemed  “cured”.

Brooke recalls that some of the other patients in the same treatment weren’t so lucky.

“You had some whose cancer came back,” she said. “In fact, some of them passed away.”

For Jessi, the best part of her recovery has been the return to things many people – young and old – take for granted.

“What I like best is that my hair is growing back,” she said. “Going back to school has been very good, too.”

Jessi was able to get her ears pierced, something that was not allowed during her treatment because of the risk of infection.

She will also be able to resume contact sports after removal of her ports next week.

Jessi now hopes to play soccer later this year, but is undecided about softball.

She continued some of her activities even during the treatment process.

“One of her hobbies is dancing, and she was on a competition team and continued with it until this year when she was no longer able to do it,” Brooke said. “Dancing is something she’s done since she was two years old, and she’s going back to it this August.”

The return to school and her old activities has been a very exciting time for Jessi, who in February was crowned “Miss MSA Sweetheart” at a dance sponsored by MSA Westside, where she attends school.

“Jessi has regained her confidence and likes school,” Brooke said. “The best part is that she no longer feels like an oddball by having to wear a hat to school. Now that her hair has grown back, she doesn’t stand out in the crowd,” she said.

For Jessi’s family, the recovery has come through plenty of prayer and support.

Brooke commended the American Cancer Association and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital for their dedication to the treatment of young cancer patients.

“When St. Jude opened in 1962, the cure rate for what she had was only four percent – now it’s ninety-four percent,” she said. “It’s a great partnership.”