A year ago, Stacey Lacroix was adjusting to her new normal.
She was moving on from grade school up to Elm Street Middle School, and – even tougher than adolescence, she was about seven months into treatment for an aggressive form of leukemia. Stacey and her mom were still figuring out how to navigate the hostile territory of cancer treatment.
Today, Stacey is on what she hopes to be the downhill side of treatment for ALL – acute lymphoblastic leukemia – which has been attacking her white blood cells and trying to take her graceful 12-year-old body over.
"Stacey is doing beautiful," says her mom, Liliy Lacroix.
Side effects of the treatment remain – bloating from the steroids, fatigue, headaches. But to the good, weekly trips to Children's Hospital in Boston have been reduced to every three weeks, now.
"They trained me how to give her the chemo at home. Fifteen minutes it takes, you have to do it slowly. Stacey and I, we get through it together. It's sometimes a roller coaster of tears. It's scary for any mom to have to do that, to put that into your child's body," says Lacroix. "There's a lot more to it, than just doing it. While you're doing it, the emotions are running through your mind, about why you're doing it. It's unbelievable that in that short amount of time, you think about everything – you relive your whole life."
Lacroix accepts that goes with the terrain, and that they must keep moving to get to the other side.
"She's strong, she's still in remission, she's doing great. We're looking forward to a clean bill of health in August. Even though we know this type of cancer could comeback, that is our goal. Whatever happens after that, we'll deal with when we get there," says Lacroix.
There is a fundraiser planned for Saturday, Feb. 23, a comedy night, auction and dance at the Elks Lodge, 120 Daniel Webster Highway, in Nashua, from 7 p.m. to midnight. All entertainers, and even the venue, were donated to the cause.
"Everyone is treating me like I am paying them top dollar. It's truly amazing," says Lacroix.
She just hopes to raise enough to keep things going, money to put aside for the mortgage – just in case Plan A (for August) requires some regrouping.
In 2010 Stacey's mom was the one fighting through breast cancer. In 2011, after bouts of mental illness, Stacey's dad left the family, and they divorced. In 2011, Stacey was diagnosed.Read this related story about Stacey from [January 18, 2012]: "Family Buoyed by Wonders of the Heart"
Lacroix took some time off from her factory job in Manchester to care for Stacey. But after using up all her sick time, and the remainder of her Family Medical Leave from when she was sick herself, her employer had to let her go.
Like most things that have come her way, Lacroix saw it as a blessing in disguise – allowing her to focus all her energy on her daughter.
Through the power of prayer, the kindness of friends and strangers, and bursts of support and donations from various community outreaches, including Nashua Police Department, Cops for Kids with Cancer and Lucy's Love Bus, Lacroix has managed to hold on to her home. That is the main thing, she says.
"I'm so touched by the people of Nashua – people from all over the country, who've sent things, like a knitted hat Stacey got, handwritten letters of encouragement, angels," Lacroix says.
While Lacroix doesn't qualify for help with her mortgage, she does receive minimal assistance from the city's Human Service department, and about $300 in food stamps.
"Stacey has a complication where she can't eat a lot of canned or packaged foods, or foods with salt, so it makes it difficult to get canned goods, but we are doing good – unbelievably, and this is true, people I don't even know, seem to come out of nowhere when we need it most, to help out with food, or whatever else. I truly believe angels are helping us," Lacroix says.
"And I can't wait to be able to do the same for someone else, when Stacey and I are in a better place," Lacroix says.
Saturday night's event is a tangible way to celebrate that there are still more ups than downs, and that friendship still trumps sacrifice.
But it's means even more than that to Lacroix.
"This event is very symbolic. It means we're getting closer; it's closure – it feels so much like the end of our long, long walk. I understand – you expect a child to look sad, with no hair, and skinny. You expect a mother to look horrible through all the suffering. All the ugly things that cancer brings into your life. Then, at the middle of your journey, everybody tries to help. Everybody thinks you are going to be OK, but you never know," Lacroix says.
"Cancer takes more than your health – it takes away your family, it takes marriages, money, jobs – it steals all your emotions. It steals not just the material things, but it tries to take your spirit. That's why I'm fighting so hard, to keep her sleeping in her own pink room every night. That's all I want," Lacroix says.
After August, she is looking forward to Stacey no longer needing a port for medication. She's looking forward to finding a job or two if necessary, to Stacey being able to go to an after school program at the YMCA. She's looking forward to normalcy, and to dreaming about the future again.
Last Christmas her daughter was inspired to launch a fundraising campaign, hoping to raise enough money to donate therapeutic massages to 20 kids suffering through treatment [see the pdf uploaded here.] Seated on Stacey's lap in the fundraising photo is Avalanna Routh, 6, a friend of Stacey's from their time together at Children's Hospital. Avalanna made national news as "Mrs. Bieber," for her love of the pop star, who actually fulfilled her wish by visiting her, a few months before her death in September.
"We lost Avalanna," said Lacroix. "But Stacey wants to continue with the fund raising. It's a cause she learned about through Lucy's Love Bus, and she knows how much it helps, when you're feeling sick, to have a therapeutic massage."
Stacey has other goals. She wants to be a pediatric cardiologist when she grows up. Last year she said something pretty profound about the origins of her aspirations, from watching a nature show on TV:
"One time I saw an episode where they were doing open heart surgery on a Husky. At first I was afraid and grossed out, but then I looked beyond that, to the scientific side, and became more knowledgeable about it," Stacey says, twirling the small jade-colored charm hanging around her neck, a gift from her cousin, Jade.
"I don't know why, but the cardiac system is so fascinating to me," she said, perhaps not realizing the depth or weight of her words. "When I think about it, the wonders of the heart are just so amazing."
One year later, Stacey and her mom continue to reap the benefits of the many wondrous hearts out there. They are still fighting, still moving forward.
"When any child has this type of illness, they are scared. They want their mommy. Stacey was not able to have her father near her, but I'm here, regardless. I can't leave her. She's my daughter, my legacy. She is the only family I have. We only have each other," Lacroix says.
"And one day, when she graduates from college, I want her to look back and know that I was there for her, that I did the best I could for her, as a mom," Lacroix says.
Tickets for the Feb. 23 fundraiser are $22 and available online here, at liveloudentertainment.com, where you can reserve as many seats as you like at any open table. Ticket price includes complete buffet spread, comedy by Boston comic Chris Tabb and "International Dance Party" music provided by JAI Entertainment.
To learn more, or to make a donation: Contact Liliy Lacroix: donations:email@example.com or (603)305-8505
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