MACEDONIA — When Jessica Papp found out her daughter Raegan has cancer this past October, she said she felt "devastated and shocked."
Her husband, Sam, likened the emotions to what a person might feel when a loved one has died.
"Like the stages of coping the loss of somebody," he said. "You have, like, six stages where it’s anger, guilt, all of those stages."
But now five local girls, all preteens, are giving the Richfield couple a boost even as there are signs of hope for their now 20-month-old daughter.
Girl Scouts of North East Ohio Troop 91322 will be hosting the American Red Cross Rays for Raegan blood drive to benefit Raegan and others at the Girl Scouts of North East Ohio headquarters, 1 Girl Scout Way in Macedonia, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 16. Girl Scout Way is off South Bedford Road, a little south of Route 82 (see box for more information about donating blood).
"I think it’s tremendous that although they are not able to donate themselves due to age restrictions, they have found another way to help," said Sam. "Not just Raegan, but potentially hundreds of other people that need these transfusions. To really be an organizer of it is tremendous."
Jessica said their ordeal began when they noticed Raegan had a black eye, which they initially believed may have happened at a daycare center she had just started at. It cleared up, but then the other eye became "black and blue," said Jessica.
At that time, Raegan also had a sinus infection and was out of antibiotics so her parents took her to her physician, who referred them to an ophthalmologist. The ophthalmologist became alarmed, said Jessica, and sent them immediately to an emergency room after recognizing the possibility of cancer.
Raegan was then subsequently diagnosed with neuroblastoma.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, this is a form of cancer developing from immature nerve cells, with children 5 and under its most common victims. Jessica said Raegan’s cancer originated above her adrenal glands — which in turn are above the kidneys — the most common area for neuroblastoma to form.
"Sam was making phone calls and telling family and I just held her as she slept," said Jessica. "I sat down as he was busy telling people."
One of those relatives was Macedonia resident Heather Radecky, Sam’s cousin and Troop 91322’s leader. Radecky’s 10-year-old daughter Summer is one of the troop members.
"As soon as Raegan was diagnosed in October," said Radecky, "as soon as we sat down and told [Summer] what we knew, she said, ‘I need to do something. They’re going to need help paying for this.’ I think she must have been thinking about the medical bills."
Summer recalled how she felt.
"I was really sad and nervous," she said. "But after a minute, I said I can’t just let this go on how it is. I want to help."
Her mother said Girl Scouts are not allowed to raise money as a Girl Scout project, but the troop members are all students at Lee Eaton Elementary School in Northfield Village, so Summer got the ball rolling on some fundraising efforts as a school effort that troop members were involved with as students.
"I first went to my school student council and my troop and it went from there," said Summer.
Other girls in the troop, which meets at American House Senior Living off South Bedford when there is not a pandemic shutdown, include Olivia Martin, Brianna Steward, Chloe Dolejs, and Leah Sunday.
The effort included selling stickers and buttons to students and collecting donations of items for baskets to be raffled off to students, with more than $2,000 raised, said Heather.
"It was a huge school-wide event. I think it ran from Thanksgiving to just after Christmas," she said.
But the girls were not done. Radecky said that the blood drive took months to organize and because the Girl Scouts do allow them to do this, the girls are using it as their Bronze Award project.
Raegan has had five surgeries, with two more to go, and has received 15 blood and eight blood platelet transfusions as part of her treatment, which also includes chemotherapy.
"She’s home now, but she goes in and out of Rainbow for treatments roughly three or four times a month, depending on her condition," said Sam on Friday.
Jessica said Raegan "is good" now.
"She’s got good energy," she said. "It’s a little tricky, hit or miss with her eating, but since it’s been a couple of weeks since her chemo, she’s doing better for the nausea."
She said Raegan’s primary tumor shrank by 50% after receiving "frontline chemo," but she has been considered "high risk" in terms of the possibility of the cancer returning.
"We are going to be doing more scans here in the next couple of weeks," said Jessica. "She’s definitely responding. But the prognosis from the beginning, they just say it’s treatable and it’s curable. Kind of what they gave us from the beginning."
The Papps say they feel an enormous appreciation for the efforts of Troop 91322.
"For kids of their age to want to learn so much about her diagnosis and other children’s cancer just speaks volumes for how much they do care and how much they want to help," said Sam. "That’s awesome."
Jessica said the girls have raised morale.
"Just their effort and finding out more about pediatric cancer and learning and organizing," she said. "Just their sympathy along with it helps us feel not so alone in having to deal with this."
Reporter Jeff Saunders can be reached at 330-541-9431, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JeffSaunders_RP.