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On a mission to spread cheer

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Sadie Keller, 9, is collecting Christmas presents for children just like her who are battling cancer. (Photo by Mark Miller)
Sadie Keller, 9, is collecting Christmas presents for children just like her who are battling cancer. (Photo by Mark Miller)

Sadie’s Sleigh 2.0 launched in late August as part of the spirit, determination and generosity of Sadie Keller.

The idea for the original Sadie’s Sleigh came early in November 2015, after Sadie, now age nine-and-a-half, was talking to pediatric hematologist-oncologist and leukemia expert Dr. Tamra Slone at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. Her visit was part of her battle with Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia or ALL B Cell, which began in February 2015.

“I was really curious if Santa came to the hospital,” Sadie said. “She [Slone] said ‘yes, he does come. Some of the nurses have seen him before.’ I couldn’t imagine they’d get many toys, because Santa needs to visit the whole world. I wanted to figure out how we could get more toys so the kids could have a better Christmas.”

With only a month left until Christmas 2015, Sadie set a goal of 300 gifts.

“I hated being in the hospital all the time and if I was there over Christmas, I would be so sad ‘cause on Christmas we’re at home playing with the stuff we got and you can’t really do that in the hospital,” she said. “So I wanted them to get really, really good presents.”

She ended up with more than 1,300 gifts from people all over the state, the country, and the world which benefitted children on the oncology floor at Children’s. And the gifts weren’t cheap trinkets. They included items like tricycles, doll houses and American Girl dolls and accessories.

With the success of the original drive, Sadie and her mother, Sarah Keller, began planning for the 2016 edition, dubbed Sadie’s Sleigh 2.0, late this spring. The early start meant expanding the goal to 3,000 gifts and adding the oncology patients at Fort Worth’s Cook Children’s Hospital.

It also included the creation of an Amazon Wish List under the name Sarah Keller; and, within one month already had netted more than 600 gifts, currently piled in the family’s Lantana home.

If everything goes well for Sadie, starting May 26, 2017, her mother might be able to post Facebook updates less frequently. That’s when Sadie would finish the maintenance phase of treatment, the longest period in the overall process.

“We’re now talking months until the end, instead of years,” Keller said. “So, we kind of feel we’re almost done. We have a long time to go, but the fact we’re talking months instead of years is exciting.”

After constantly switching therapies the first 10-months, everything has stabilized in the maintenance period. Still, Sadie takes oral chemotherapy every night, plus a dose of another medicine on Thursdays.

One therapy has her taking between one and two pills a day, while the other requires up to 15. Exactly how many she takes depends on her immunity numbers. In addition, she goes to Children’s for monthly antibody and breathing treatments, undergoes a quarterly spinal tap, and takes steroids for five-days after treatment.

“If everything works and there’s no leukemia cells, then she’s done. She’d then go every month for a year, then every other month for another year, then once every three months for another year. It’s like five years off treatment then you go every year for the rest of your life.”

Sadie is back at Blanton Elementary School, participating with other fourth graders several days a week, with the hope of attending every day soon. The transition back to school has been challenging in ways beyond just the rigors of the normal schedule and academics.

“My friends have made other friends,” Sadie said.

Part of the challenge is that Sadie can be shy and reserved. It’s hard for any mother to help her child learn how to make friends and to throw in a cancer diagnosis is “heartfelt.” So, Keller has been role-playing to boost her daughter’s confidence to make friends on her own.

“Some of her old friends will come over for play dates and it’s awesome,” she added. “But, in a school environment she had lots of friends who are now off with lots of new friends she doesn’t know, so she finds herself drawing on a picnic table by herself.

“This year starting at the beginning, being back in fourth grade, knowing she missed half of her second-grade year– and all of her third-grade year– and to come back in fourth grade; she’s had some trouble just finding her way. We’re still working on it.”

Fortunately, the maintenance phase seems to have been working in multiple ways.

“I’ve been feeling good because I don’t need to go through chemo every week now,” Sadie said. “Sometimes I’m tired and other times I feel like I didn’t do anything. The night after I get home from treatments my face gets itchy.”

No doubt Sadie’s increased energy will come in handy when dealing with all the toys she’s helping collect.

Sadie soon will make a video and place it on YouTube while Sarah will continue to mention it on her personal Facebook page plus at #Sadiestrong, #SadiesSleigh2.0, and #yougotthisgirl.

The Argyle Fire Department, 511 South Gibbons Road, will again serve as a drop-off location for donations.

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