Just three weeks ago, Fox Point third-grader Audrey Parrott was diagnosed with leukemia. And while she spends most of her time at Children's Hospital, preparing herself for the expected hair loss that accompanies chemotherapy, her family and friends in the Fox Point-Bayside area are banding together to bring a smile to Audrey's face and help support her family financially.
On Oct. 4, Audrey and her parents went to the hospital to have her blood tested for an infection. When the results came back, they learned their little girl had developed Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
"When we were told that our 8-year-old child had cancer, our whole world stopped and changed forever," Audrey's mother, Mary Jo Parrott, said.
Fortunately, ALL is the most treatable form of childhood leukemia, and Audrey has a very good chance of making a full recovery due to her age and gender, Mary Jo said. But there's still a very long road ahead for Audrey.
"We have been through the initial shock of the diagnosis but continue to deal with anger and sadness and frustration while we try to figure out our new 'normal' life," Mary Jo said. And Audrey shares much of the same shock, anger, sadness and frustration, Mary Jo said, because she can't do the things that brought her so much joy before, like going to school, playing with friends, ballet class and swimming.
Audrey faces at least three phases of treatment over the next 2½ years, or longer if she doesn't stay in remission. The treatments range from oral medications to spinal taps, Mary Jo said. If she remains in remission for five years, there is a very low chance of the cancer returning.
Peace, love and 'Audreyness'
While in the hospital, a close friend asked Audrey to design a picture or saying to put on T-shirts for fundraising, and that's when "Audreyness" was born.
"Audrey has always been interested in clothing, wall art and other things that have peace signs on them," Mary Jo said. "So instead of peace love and happiness – she chose Audreyness. Audrey is the most loving, caring, sweet, kind, smart, considerate, creative, strong and courageous girl we know – all of that encompasses Audreyness. Ask anyone who knows her and they would agree."
A community bands together
While the Parrot family faces the countless hurdles of coping with Audrey's diagnosis, they face an abundance of financial burdens.
Audrey's father, Chad, will lose his job at the end of December, and the family's health insurance as well. Mary Jo is on an unpaid leave of absence to take care of Audrey, leaving her unable to contribute to the family's income. But they won't have to face these problems alone.
Jessica Luecke is a junior at Nicolet High School and is spearheading many of the fundraisers to help Audrey "feel like a rockstar" throughout her treatment.
"I feel as if Audrey and me have kind of connected. I know if it were someone in my family, my community would try as much as they can to help support any treatments," Luecke said. "The basis is for her to try chemo and get enough money to buy her a wig, or something, to make her feel like a rockstar."
As of Tuesday afternoon, HelpAudrey.org has raised $2,420, which has brought them 81 percent to their goal of $3,000. If the group can reach their goal, a handful of Nicolet teachers and possibly some administrators at Stormonth will shave their heads to show their support.
"Everyone at Stormonth is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to help Audrey out," Stormonth Principal Dan Westfahl said.
And how would Westfahl describe Audrey?
"Hard working, positive, smiley, strong, kind, caring, friendly," he said. "Above all, she is missed. Her friends are missing her, her teachers are missing her. She is an important part of our community."
Plenty of ways to pitch in
Lars Lewander of Fox Point has a son who is in Cub Scouts with Audrey's twin brother. While he said he doesn't know Audrey very well, he feels it's important to help your neighbor, whether or not you know them personally.
"I have a little daughter that’s younger than Audrey, and like any parent, that would be one of the greatest fears is that your daughter is severely ill," Lewander said. "I think all parents would react the same. We’re just lucky in Fox Point because we’re living in abundance."
Lewander belongs to a local group of dads called The Odd Fellows. This group goes out about twice a month, Lewander said, to eat, drink and look for charitable organizations they can help with. He said they've done bowling events to raise money for Children's Hospital twice before, but this time, they were more than happy to help organize the event for Audrey.
The Odd Fellows Bowling Benefit for Audrey will be from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 3 at Brown Deer Lanes, 4715 W. Bradley Rd., Brown Deer. Teams of four to six people will be able to bowl two games for $15 per person. There will be prizes for participation and more, as well as a raffle and silent auction with proceeds going to to help with Audrey's treatments.
There will also be bake sales and classroom competitions at Nicolet, Dodgeball for the Cure, a Night at Ferrentes and more. Check out the Help Audrey website and Help Audrey Facebook page to stay abreast on the latest fundraising initiatives.
The impact of giving
Besides making a monetary donation, there are other ways to help Audrey and her family.
A Meal Train has been set up for the family to help reduce one more struggle. If you'd like to help by making them a meal, check out the Meal Train for Mary Jo and Chad Parrott online.
Mary Jo said she and her family moved to Fox Point last September and the support from the community has been nothing short of overwhelming.
"We feel so very fortunate that we moved to a community of such loving and generous people," Mary Jo said. "Words cannot express how much we appreciate the support that we receive on a daily basis."