Five-year-old Kelsey Kartchner of Smithfield has big plans for her future: She wants to go to Disneyland, become a famous singer, ride horses and dance the hula in Hawaii. She seems like a typical, albeit cute and precocious, 5 year old, and at first meeting you may not realize that Kelsey has already faced more life-threatening obstacles in her short life than most people can begin to imagine.
Kelsey’s battle with Retinoblastoma, a rare childhood cancer of the eye, began when she was an infant. Her mother, Krissy, noticed a white light reflecting off Kelsey’s eyes. “I mentioned it to my husband and our pediatrician, but no one else could see it,” Krissy said. “Then one night in October 2009, when Kelsey was 8 months old, my sister was visiting and she noticed it too. We immediately started researching what it could mean.”
After a visit to the ophthalmologist the next morning, Krissy was told that Kelsey’s eyes looked like a textbook case of Bilateral Retinoblastoma. They quickly learned that Kelsey had four large tumors in each eye that were more advanced than what could be treated in Utah.
“We were referred to expert physicians in Philadelphia,” Krissy said. “We would have testing in Salt Lake City and then fly to Philadelphia for several days every few months for treatment.”
In addition to the fears they had for their daughter’s wellbeing and the challenges it presented for caring for their two older children, the treatment routine quickly put a heavy financial burden on the Kartchners who were acquiring debt for travel and missed work on top of stacked medical bills. Then, the Cache Valley for Hope Cancer Foundation stepped in.
Cache Valley for Hope Cancer Foundation is a non-profit organization that assists local cancer patients and their families with their immediate financial needs that medical insurance does not cover as they go through cancer treatment and return to a self-sufficient lifestyle after treatment is completed.
“Our family has been immensely blessed to have Cache Valley for Hope Cancer Foundation watch over us, lift us up emotionally and ease the financial stress that cancer forced upon us,” Krissy said.
“The foundation has helped us offset the travel expenses that piled up while we were traveling for Kelsey’s treatments, and has continued reaching out and checking in with us,” she continued. “It is hard to be humble and accept help, but they have never made us feel uncomfortable doing it. In additional to the financial assistance, Cache Valley for Hope Cancer Foundation has become a great network for us to meet other families who are going through similar trials and support each other.”
Since her diagnosis, Kelsey has been through seven rounds of systemic chemotherapy, four rounds of subconjunctival chemotherapy, two months of proton beam radiation, plaque radiation, and, most recently, three intraocular chemotherapy injections into her eye. Kelsey has low vision in both eyes and is doing double duty in preschool where she is learning to read and write both the English and Braille alphabets in preparation for the possibility of complete blindness in the future.
“Kelsey has an awesome attitude,” said Krissy. “This is her normal, it is all she knows, and she is very brave through it all.”
Although there are thousands of seed tumors remaining in Kelsey’s eyes that need frequent monitoring to prevent spread, her cancer is currently non-active, which is a blessing the Kartchners are happy to enjoy.
“We try and be as positive as possible and work through every challenge as a family,” Krissy said. “This experience with cancer and with the Cache Valley for Hope Cancer Foundation has made our children very service- oriented. Our kids are always on the lookout for people they can help. It is pretty amazing to watch.”