By Wade Coggeshall
AVON — Kaylee Willman had a one-word answer for how she's currently feeling.
The second-grader at River Birch Elementary School recently returned to school for the first time since September. That's when she was diagnosed with leukemia.
"We had been noticing she looked pale for a week or so before we took her in to a doctor," said her father, Ryan. Kaylee came home from school one day and mentioned that her art teacher had asked her if she was feeling OK.
"That was kind of a trigger to call a doctor," Ryan said.
He and his wife Amy were shocked when they heard the diagnosis. Within hours Kaylee was admitted to Riley Hospital for Children. The good news is the cancer appears to have been discovered early.
"She had some minor bruising, but not nearly the physical side effects a lot of people say are common, like what (Colts) coach Chuck Pagano had," Ryan said.
Kaylee's treatment has been going well.
"Doctors are telling us she's reacting the way they'd hoped," Ryan said. "They expect her to make a full recovery."
In fact, Kaylee learned in October that her cancer was in remission - on her birthday.
"She said that was the best birthday present ever," Ryan said.
With her treatments not as intense now, Kaylee's energy level has been up. That enabled her to better enjoy the holidays. She returned to River Birch for a program presented by the Indiana Blood Center. Much of the student body and school faculty wore purple for the occasion, which is Kaylee's favorite color.
The Indiana Blood Center also announced a blood drive dedicated to Kaylee. It will be from 11:15 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the River Birch gym. Each student who recruits a blood donor will get a Pagano regulation-size football.
Kris Kingery, River Birch principal, met with the Indiana Blood Center last month about having such an event. He figures many of the donors will be school staff, though the blood drive is open to anyone who's at least 17 (16 with consent form), weighs at least 110 pounds, and is in good general health.
"I feel like that's enough to just do it here in our fieldhouse," said Kingery, who notes everyone at the school will wear purple that day too.
As for Kaylee, she starts the delayed intensification phase of her treatment soon. That's eight weeks of more frequent and higher doses.
"We're assuming her energy levels will go back down during that time period," Ryan said.
After that is the maintenance cycle. During that, Kaylee will get treatment as needed for two years.
"Hopefully, if there aren't any relapses, she'll be completely done in November 2014," said her mother, Amy.
Kaylee will be considered cancer-free if there are no relapses for five years. Doctors hope she can return to school in April and full-time starting next school year.
For more information, visit the website at IndianaBlood.org.