ATLANTA - Kacey Ezelle says one of her favorite storybooks is titled "You're Here For A Reason." She loves to read it to her daughter. It sums up perfectly how she and her husband Chad feel about Carly.
"She is special because she is the bravest child I've ever known," Ezelle says.
Brave because Carly saunters into chemotherapy, holding her little plastic purse, like this is the most normal place in the world for an almost 3-year old to be.
"She has always set the tone for me,” her mom says. “She's always been resilient and strong, so it's easy for me to be strong for her."
They began this journey back in June of 2015 when visiting Lake Lanier Islands, Kacey and Chad noticed Carly was limping.
"And it happened immediately,” Kacey says. “It wasn't a gradual limp that turned into a significant limp. So we knew something was wrong. Instinct."
The doctor ordered x-rays and bloodwork.
"And, it was within a couple of hours, he was able to tell us he suspected it was leukemia, and to head straight to the hospital."
At Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, doctors diagnosed Carly with childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, the most common form of childhood cancer
"Automatically you think that it's the end,” says Carly’s father Chad. “It just makes your heart fall to your feet."
But this was just the beginning. Within 24 hours, Children's oncologist Dr. Frank Keller and the AFLAC Cancer Center team started Carly on chemotherapy. They started with a milder regimen and then intensified it to try to head off a possible relapse.
By the fall of 2015, the leukemia seemed to be gone. But Dr. Keller was cautious.
“So, once you're ‘cancer- free’ and we can no longer detect (it), we know that is a sign that it's not really gone. It just means that the leukemia is now below the limits that we can detect."
So Carly is pushing on. The treatment for girls with ALL is almost 2 and half years. For boys, it 3 years.
"And if we stop early and it comes back again, that's called a relapse, then it's much more difficult to treat,” say Dr. Keller.
The Ezelles moved from Flowery Branch, about an hour’s drive from the hospital, to North Decatur to be closer to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. Carly’s days are full of appointments.
Kacey says her daughter has needed lots of blood products, requiring at least 18 transfusions in the last year.
Each month, she comes back for IV chemo and a spinal tap.
Physical therapy is the fun part of Carly’s treatment regimen.
Her chemo has caused nerve damage and weakness in her legs. So, the therapists use play to help rebuild her strength and mobility.
Carly is almost half-way through her treatment. If all goes well, she will be finished in October of 2017. It’s a long way off. But the Ezelles have faith that, like their favorite storybook, Carly will get her happy ending.
"Thank goodness you're here. Thank goodness times two,” her mother read to Carly. “I just can't imagine a world without you. The End."