KENNESAW, Ga. - A Kennesaw family is making it their mission to raise awareness about childhood cancer after their young daughter and sister battled a rare form of cancer.
When Emily Kate McKinney was just 16 months old, her mother Stefanie noticed a lump on her neck.
After weeks of going to different doctors to try to get answers, Stefanie got a call from a doctor telling her that Emily Kate had neuroblastoma.
"And at that point, I immediately knew she had cancer, and I just stopped. And I couldn’t tell you a single word of the rest of that phone call. It was just tears, instant tears," Stefanie McKinney said.
According to the American Cancer Society, neuroblastoma is a rare form of cancer in the nerve cells that only affects kids younger than 10.
Nine out of 10 neuroblastoma cases are in children younger than 5, and there are about 700-800 new cases in the U.S. each year.
"It was stage four neuroblastoma," said her father, Chris McKinney.
They immediately started Emily Kate on chemotherapy.
But it didn’t seem to help.
"We did nine rounds of chemo…at this point, her hair had fallen out, she had become weak. The chemo was really taking a toll on her, and we weren’t getting any results," Chris said.
Eventually they were able to get in touch with doctors from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, or MSK, in Manhattan through the Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation.
Those doctors said they could operate on her to remove the tumor.
In September of last year, the surgery was a success.
"When she had the six-hour surgery, they expected her to be in the hospital for a few days. And the next day she was running through the halls of the hospital with this little push toy," Stefanie said.
(Courtesy: Stefanie McKinney )
And now they want to help other families going through the same thing.
"Our mission is awareness!" Stefanie said.
They traveled to Alabama recently to have Emily Kate’s face painted on a truck to raise awareness for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which starts in September.
Chris is also planning to run in the New York City Marathon to raise money for MSK. You can find his fundraiser here.
And their plans don’t stop there.
"We’re currently in the early beginnings of starting a nonprofit. Emily Kate’s Facebook group has always been ‘EK Crushes Cancer.’ So we’re going to do a little spin on that and do ‘Every Kid Crushes Cancer.’ With our main mission being funding for research for neuroblastoma," Stefanie said.
According to the Kate Amato Foundation, only about 4% of the National Cancer Institute’s funding goes toward childhood cancer research.
The McKinneys hope to eventually sponsor families to travel to New York to get treatment at MSK.
So other kids like Emily Kate have a fighting chance.
You can find the ‘EK Crushes Cancer’ group here.