On any given day, hundreds of students walk through the doors of Owings-McQuagge Hall. Classes are held, tests are given, teachers lecture and students alternate between note-taking and text-sending. However, tucked in the back corner of one of the professor offices is the dimly lit office of Lindsay Wright, Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Online Program Coordinator for the Department of Child and Family Studies here at USM. On top of the regular duties professors are trusted with, Wright is dealing with something much larger and much more important. Her 23-month old daughter, Kaitlyn, has been diagnosed with leukemia.
However, Kaitlyn’s fight against leukemia didn’t start recently. Kaitlyn’s mom says they’ve been monitoring her blood since she was two months old.
“Kaitlyn was diagnosed with a form of pre-leukemia when she was six months old, but in reality we’ve been monitoring her blood since she was about 2 months old,” Wright said.
Leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer according to the American Cancer Society, is a cancer which affects early blood-forming cells. AML, or Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the specific kind of leukemia Kaitlyn has, is known to affect red and white blood cells. Specifically causing there to not be enough mature blood forming cells in the body. This means that Kaitlyn’s red, white or platelet count could be too low causing symptoms ranging from high fevers to weakened immune systems.
A loved one being diagnosed with cancer is enough to strain any family, but the Wrights are showing what love can do to keep them together. Since Kaitlyn was diagnosed at just 20 months old, the Wright family has had to adjust and adapt to the new needs of their baby girl. This included being in and out of the hospital and usually away from each other as well as other family.
When Kaitlyn was first diagnosed with pre-leukemia, she had a low dose of chemo which caused Tony Wright, who was previously a salesman for Toyota of Hattiesburg, to be out of work for two months to be in the hospital with Kaitlyn. Since then, they’ve been in and out for different lengths of time with 25 days being the longest stretch so far. This stretch could be beaten at any moment, however, due to the how chemo affects the body, especially the body of a toddler.
“It’s not necessarily the leukemia, it’s what you get when you have no immune system,” Wright said. “We just finished round three [of chemo], and we’ll be starting round four soon.”
We’ve decided we can be a family again when we’re together and this is all over,” Wright said. “[Tony] goes up with her during the week and I can come up on Friday afternoon. As much time as I can give him out of the hospital room is the goal because it’s hard to be there when she’s sick, but it’s also hard to be there when she’s well because then you have a toddler in a hospital.”
This doesn’t mean that they’re alone in this fight though. Since Kaitlyn’s diagnosis, the Wrights have seen an outpouring of support.
“All of our family is in Georgia, so my parents [Kaitlyn’s grandparents] come to visit when they can,” Wright said. “We’ve now had two potential hurricanes stop that, but when she gets cleared we’re going to take a week and go visit.”
But when family can’t be there, the community steps in.
My coworkers are my go to,” she said. “My department is a bunch of therapists, so I’ve been very fortunate. I can send one text message and the whole department will rally.”
And if you’re wondering how Kaitlyn, just a toddler, is handling this battle, just ask her mom.
Of course she has her good days and bad days, but her mom says one minute she can be refusing medicine and having to have a nurse hold her down and the next she’s hugging the nurse and laughing.
She’s very forgiving, but toddlers can learn to say no and it means something,” Wright said. “You want to respect their opinion and the hardest thing is now when a nurse comes in to give her medicine. [Kaitlyn] is spunky, forgiving and got a double dose of stubborn from her mom and her dad. She’s just loving and funny,” and that hasn’t really changed throughout the treatments. By all accounts, Kaitlyn remains to be a very strong little girl fighting an extremely hard and long battle.
If you would like to help the Wright family, there will be a blood drive on October 27th (which just so happens to be Kaitlyn’s second birthday) across from the Baptist Student Union on campus.