MERIDIAN -- Three local families - all connected by a horrible, unthinkable diagnosis - are teaming up for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
Coleman, Addie and Easton were all diagnosed with cancer in the last year and on Saturday, their parents hosted an event to raise money for pediatric cancer research and celebrate their brave little fighters.
These three families have a special bond now - able to lift each other up and relate to their hardships during this past year. Saturday's barbecue and bake sale was not only to bring awareness to the fact that kids get cancer, too, but it was also a celebration.
Four-year-old Addie Abernathey finishes months of intensive treatment on Monday.
"It's bittersweet. You think you'd be super excited and we're done, but it's just a going back and forth between being worried and not being worried and just enjoying each moment. So that's what we're going to be doing: we're just going to be making memories and trying not to focus on the scans every three months and the likelihood that it can come back," Addie's mom, Kristee Abernathey, said.
Diagnosed on Christmas Eve last year with a very rare, aggressive form of cancer, it's been a long haul.
"She's been doing a total of 40 weeks of chemotherapy and then radiation in Seattle - 29 treatments of that over like an eight week period," Kristee added.
But overall, mom says Addie is doing amazing.
"She's a real sassy spirit and has continued to be that way throughout," Kristee said. "She just dances her way through it. She's just been a real inspiration to us."
It's been exactly one year since Easton Brown was diagnosed with the same type of rare cancer as Addie.
"His is orbital rabdomyosarcoma, which is a very uncommon cancer we're told," Easton's mom, Paige Brown, said, "and it was very interesting when we found out about Addie who was diagnosed just a few months after Easton."
Easton wrapped up treatment six months ago.
"He has an amazing spirit and through the whole process has just been a happy kid and rolls with the punches. He just does what needs to be done," Paige said. "I think one of the good things about having it happen so young is that he just either feels good or he doesn't feel good. And he doesn't understand the extreme nature of what he's going through."
And then there's Coleman, or Cole, Ross, who has also been fighting for his life as well, diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma in December of last year.
"He's had a lot of therapy since then: a lot of chemotherapy, surgery to remove his tumor, a bone marrow transplant, radiation and now he's in his final stage of treatment, which is immunotherapy," his mom, Allyson Ross, said. "It's such an aggressive cancer and tends to come back so often that he still has to complete the whole high-risk protocol to try to ensure that this never comes back."
"But we're at the end. We're almost done. He's done amazingly well - as well as we could have hoped. So the light is definitely at the end of the tunnel and we're so hopeful and excited to be finished."
A resilient kiddo, who's finding his inner strength to push through.
"He's an incredibly optimistic, hopeful kid. He's never one to question why we're going to the hospital again, never one to complain. But obviously it's tough treatment and it does take its toll on him. So when he is really struggling he tends to yeah, go inside of himself and he won't be very interactive and you can tell he's processing things inside and finds his inner strength and pushes through," Allyson said.
All three of these families fighting for their children's lives together.
"We all kind of shared resources and helped each other get through everything," Paige Brown said. "You don't want to meet other families going through it because it's such an awful thing to go through. But at the same time nobody understands like another family going through it. Just to have people very once in a while you can say, I'm losing it, or something like that. It's nice to have that support."
"They're really encouraging to me and I feel like we'll be friends forever because we just have this special connection that not everyone understands. And not everyone has been through this," Kristee Abernathey added. "We've just continued on this journey together which has been really nice to have that support."
A journey that's resulted in a mission to advocate for these brave little ones, and all kids who have been diagnosed with cancer - those who have fought and survived and those whose young lives were cut short. Their goal is to remind them no one fights alone.
"These kids are incredible," Allyson Ross added.
Through delicious desserts in conjunction with Cookies for Kids' Cancer, the community raised money to go directly toward pediatric cancer research. All donations will be matched by OXO.
"Childhood cancer research is so underfunded and the chemo and the medicine these kids receive is the same thing that adults receive," Brown said.
"There's not a lot of money allocated to pediatric cancer research, when really they're the ones who should get a lot of our focus because they have so many years left to live," Ross added. "Right now the therapies they're getting are incredibly toxic which is the last thing we wanna be giving out beautiful, developing children. Almost every childhood cancer survivor goes on to have a lot of issues later in life so what we're really trying to do is bring awareness to hopefully bring more funding for research so these kids can get treatments that are better tolerated, and not so toxic and very effective. And ultimately our dream is to get a cure, so no kid has to go through this."
These families don't feel like their battle is over or their children are in the clear once treatment is completed; they say they'll worry about whether or not the cancer will recur.
But they are hopeful, and sending the message to other families to get connected with people going through similar situations because that's what's helped them get through it all.
Learn more about Addie's journey on this Facebook page Hope for Addie.
Learn more about Coleman's fight on this Facebook page Courage for Coleman.
Learn more about Easton's diagnosis and battle on this Facebook page Team Easton.