By Nancy Price
When a beaming 12-year-old Center Grove girl named Audrey Wampler rang a bell at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health last July to celebrate the end of grueling chemotherapy treatments two-and-a-half years earlier, naturally, she felt optimistic.
Yet, this upbeat attitude rarely left her side. Not even after the diagnosis of acute B cell lymphoblastic leukemia, frequent hospitalizations, physical pain, fatigue and losing her hair.
“There were many times she didn’t feel well as a result of her very intensive lifesaving chemotherapy, but I never heard her complain nor was she ever grumpy with her caregivers,” said Ann Haddix, nurse practitioner at Riley Hospital. “She was always pleasant and a joy to be around. I always looked forward to seeing her!”
Haddix met Audrey, a sixth-grade student at Center Grove Middle School, and her family a few days after Audrey received the leukemia diagnosis. “She was still in-patient and as I was going to be the nurse practitioner following her, went to meet them,” Haddix recalled. “They were overwhelmed with information and blindsided by this new diagnosis – in addition, her dog was dying, and we allowed her to go to the front door of the hospital to say ‘goodbye.’ It was the saddest thing I have ever seen.”
DETERMINATION FOR A ‘NORMAL LIFE’
However, “she kept going to school and continued most of her activities during her treatment,” Haddix continued. “She didn’t let it stop her from having a normal life.”
Audrey’s aunt invited the family, which includes Audrey’s mother, Kristen; father, Ryan; and brother, Mark, to attend the annual Light the Night fundraising walk that fall to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Participating in the event “helped Audrey see initially that others have leukemia (as well),” said Kristen. “It made her not feel alone.”
In addition, Audrey’s teacher, who survived leukemia as a young girl herself, attended. “She kind of knew what I was going through and it was special for her too because she had never (attended).” Audrey said. ”That was really special for me.”
The following year, Audrey was asked to be the honored hero due to her inspiration as a supporter for the region by LLS at Light the Night in Indianapolis.
A YOUNG AMBASSADOR
This year, Audrey was asked to be the 2020 Girl of the Year for the LLS Indiana Chapter. Each year, four ambassadors are chosen to represent their state: the Women of the Year, Man of the Year, Girl of the Year and Boy of the Year. As Girl of the Year, she is an advocate for fundraising efforts, including designing T-shirts, speaking at luncheons and dinners and participating in videos.
Jeff Johnson, campaign director for Man and Woman of the Year, noted the silver lining in Audrey’s experience with leukemia has been the opportunity to share her experience with others. “She’s very passionate about sharing her story,” he said. “For someone her age to come out of this with such positivity is inspiring.”
“I am so very pleased for her but not surprised that she is receiving this honor,” added Haddix. “She will be an excellent representative and role model.”
This year’s Light the Night event will be held Oct. 3, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Military Park, 601 W. New York St., Indianapolis. For more information, go to lls.org or Facebook: Light the Night – Indianapolis area.
THE LEUKEMIA & LYMPHOMA SOCIETY COVID-19 FINANCIAL AID PROGRAM
Recently, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society launched a new patient assistance program, the LLS COVID-19 Patient Financial Aid Program, which provide $250 to eligible patients experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic. The program will help patients offset non-medical expenses such as food and other household expenses, rent and transportation. Please visit lls.org for more information.