When she was just three and a half years old, Kayleigh was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. It was a Thursday, and her mom Valerie Hale remembers every single moment of it.
“I felt so helpless. I started crying so hard I couldn’t even hardly see,” said Valerie. “I sat down beside Kayleigh and she just looked at me and said, ‘Mommy, why are you crying? It’ll be okay. Hold my hand, mommy.’ She didn’t even know what was going on. She was just trying to comfort me.”
When Kayleigh was first admitted on August 4, 2009, there weren’t any available rooms on the hospital’s oncology floor, so she was admitted to the cardiology floor. It wasn’t until the next day that she finally got a room on the oncology floor.
As soon as she got into her room, there was a Chemo Duck waiting on the bed for her.
“We didn’t realize it at the time just how important and special he would become,” explained Valerie. “In the early days, he was always by her side for the majority of her journey. But as time went on, and even today, as she is nearing her teens, he goes with her everywhere. He is her comfort and her peace of mind. He is her best friend.”
While Kayleigh found comfort in her Chemo Duck, Valerie found comfort in her family and other families within the childhood cancer community.
“The most beneficial thing for us during this time was just being together as a family,” said Valerie. “For parents going through this, I’d recommend finding support groups. They help.”
Today, Kayleigh is almost nine years cancer-free. This November, she will be eight years out of treatment. She still has her original Chemo Duck from nine years ago, as well as a newer duck and a Chemo duckling.
“She loves them all, of course,” said Valerie. “But the others don’t even come close to comparing to her love for her original ducky. I don’t think she will ever let him go.”
Kayleigh has a lot of lasting effects from chemo, radiation and other treatments. She lost a good bit of her hearing and now has a hearing aid on one side and a cochlear implant/hearing aid hybrid on the other. She has also had problems growing and gaining weight.
“Her bones are more fragile now and more prone to breaks or small fractures, too,” explained Valerie. “She is being followed in GI, Endocrinology, Nephrology, sees her survivor clinic once a year, Audiology and ENT as well as Neurology and Mental Health. They all keep pretty close tabs on her to make sure she is where she should be and has everything she needs.”
However, despite her struggles at such a young age, Kayleigh takes it all in stride and very rarely complains. She is doing well in school — all A’s and B’s! — and is friends with everyone in her grade.
In fact, Kayleigh is a very spunky girl. She’s bright and can put a smile on anyone’s face. An artist at heart, Kayleigh loves art, music (more specifically: Twenty-One Pilots) and animals. She has a bearded dragon named Zilla and a chihuahua named Sammy. Known for her big heart, Kayleigh truly cares about people.
Everyone with Gabe’s Chemo Duck Program is so glad to hear that Kayleigh is doing well and that her Chemo Duck is still by her side every step of the way. We cannot wait to see where Kayleigh’s loving, artistic spirit will take her next. The sky is the limit for this sweet, spunky girl!