LAKE WYLIE -- Here's the story you never would've guessed you couldn't wait to hear. The one that reads like a 30-page Hallmark card. The one you scribble onto that School District of the Year application form.
It begins Jan. 14, five days before Mackenzie DeCuir's first birthday. Starting in her adrenal gland but first showing itself within a swollen eye, a problem two weeks of doctor visits couldn't solve led the DeCuirs to a dermatologist, and ophthalmologist, a CT scan and finally to the desk of Dr. Chad Jacobsen at Levine Children's Hospital.
Neuroblastoma. Stage 4. Both legs, parts of both arms, both sides of the ribs and the pelvic region.
"I'll be honest," said Julie DeCuir, Mackenzie's mom and fourth grade teacher at Griggs Road Elementary School. "I didn't hear another word he said after he said cancer. It was one of those things that, no, this isn't happening."
Two weeks of wondering, two days of wrenched nerves in every waiting room they could imagine -- one whirlwind ride stopped hard and cold with a single word.
"The first question is why, and how could this happen to a little girl?" Julie DeCuir said.
But, like any great story, it doesn't end there.
Enter Patti Myers, special education teacher at Griggs Road. And Lee Killian, former ace of the Clover High School pitching staff. And Tricia Hall and Jamie May's runners at Clover Middle School, and more caring kids than the DeCuirs could hug or shake hands with all at once.
"It just broke everybody's heart, so we decided to do something," said Pam Cato, principal at Griggs Road.
As the family focused on getting Mackenzie better -- she's halfway through eight rounds of chemo, with doctors giving her a 95 percent chance of beating the disease -- a whole host of Blue Eagle nation rose up to take the DeCuirs under its wing. The Clover Junior High School student council started Dollars for DeCuir. Clover Middle School, through its girls running club, hosted a three-mile walk/run.
"We had cousins and mammas and things like that," said Hall, group sponsor, who was "very pleased" with the money raised.
It didn't stop there. The Crowders Creek schools, whose teachers keep a running fund for dollars donated so they can wear jeans to school, sent that money to the DeCuirs. Killian, whose community rallied around him with numerous fundraisers following a May 2007 wreck that left him partially paralyzed, ordered up 1,500 pink bracelets to sell for the DeCuirs.
And, of course, Griggs Road refused to be outdone.
"It's been a community effort, too," Cato said. "For the economic times being what they are, it's unbelievable to see people just giving anyway. They're scraping."
A Coins for DeCuir competition ended Friday, with the girls collecting 432 pounds of money and the boys 387.5. Those pounds totaled up $3,722.23. A bake sale cooked up $645. Donations from Griggs and other schools added another $5,664.40 to the pot, bringing the overall total to $10,031.63.
"Just unimaginable," Julie DeCuir said. "We're very blessed and very fortunate to be here."
For Micah Sherwood, a fourth-grader at Griggs Road, competitions like Coins for DeCuir ordinarily would be about beating the boys--which after a week of trailing the girls rallied to do Friday. But the youngster who raided her piggy bank and her parents for coins said this event was different.
"I just know that a 1-year-old baby who has cancer, she probably is really suffering," Sherwood said. "It's hard to watch a baby have cancer."
Plus, Sherwood said, the Griggs Road teacher deserves the help.
"I just wanted to do something for her because she's done so much for the school," Sherwood said of DeCuir.
Ethan Lasche, still reeling a bit from the final day push that put the girls over the top, carried in $50 in coins. Then he carried in $10 more. The third-grader and his parents also spent $20 on bracelets, and Lasche proudly dons his Clover blue Lee Killian bracelet alongside his pink Mackenzie DeCuir one.
"I don't care what color it is as long as it helps someone," he said.
While the children admit they don't know much about cancer, they're learning through it. For someone like Cato, who never would've guessed a horrible circumstance could turn educational opportunity, the lesson is shared among both adults and students.
"They're learning so much more than academics," Cato said. "They're learning to share, to give."
And, just maybe, how to be part of the best story told around here in a long, long time.
You can help
To purchase a Mackenzie DeCuir bracelet for $5, e-mail email@example.com. For more ways to help, contact Griggs Road Elementary School at 803-222-5777.
What is neuroblastoma?
According to the American Cancer Society, neuroblastoma is a form of cancer that starts in certain types of very primitive developing nerve cells found in an embryo or fetus. This type of cancer occurs in infants and young children. It is rarely found in children older than 10 years.
A little more than 1 out of 3 neuroblastomas start in the adrenal glands. About 1 out of 3 begins in the sympathetic nerve ganglia of the abdomen. The rest start in sympathetic ganglia of the chest or neck or in the pelvis.
In rare cases, a neuroblastoma may have spread so widely by the time it is found that doctors can't tell exactly where it started.
The approach to treatment of neuroblastoma depends on the stage of the cancer, the child's age, and other factors such as the prognostic markers mentioned above. The types of treatment used may include surgery, chemotherapy, retinoid therapy, and radiation therapy. In many cases, more than one type of treatment is needed.
How is Mackenzie?
She has another CT scan, MRI and bone marrow biopsy in a little more than a week. Mackenzie is through four of eight rounds of chemotherapy, and the best case scenario is that the treatment will be the last time she has to deal with the disease.
"We're doing as well as can be expected," Julie DeCuir said.
The most recent chemo treatments were harder than the first ones, with Mackenzie feeling sicker more often, DeCuir said.
"We're washing a lot more clothes," she said.
The family remains optimistic, and swelling in Mackenzie's eye is almost completely subsided. She still has unobstructed vision. While difficult for Mackenzie, too young to recognize much of what is going on, the family sees the positives in the situation, even the treatments to their young daughter.
"It's very tough but at the same time, 10 years from now she's not even going to remember this happened," DeCuir said.
For the latest updates, or to send encouragement to the family, visit caringbridge.org/visit/mackenziedecuir.