|Frances Abu Shenab, 5, center, with a couple of pals at school. (Photo by Doug Oakley)|
By Doug Oakley
Bay Area News Group
For some, cancer is a destroyer, a sinister seed that seems to grow out of nowhere, leaving lives in shambles. For those who survive, it can be a wake up call to put things in perspective and start living.
Five-year-old Berkeley resident Frances Abu Shanab, who recently emerged on the winning side of acute lymphoblastic leukemia, is living.
After 26 months of needles, injections, steroids, spinal taps and chemotherapy through a "port" in her chest, the little girl is all giggles and fun as she plays with her first grade friends at school.
Her mother, Sarah Abu Shanab, said her daughter's ordeal changed the way she sees the world.
"It was the most difficult thing we've ever been through in our lives," Abu Shanab said. "It makes you put things in perspective about what's truly important. We get so caught up in our day-to-day lives and our jobs, and it turns out those are not so important. What is important is sharing time together, because your life can be taken away just like that."
Although mom is not sure her daughter grasps all that at her young age, she does know Frances is just happy to have the catheter in her chest removed. She still sports little kid bandages in the place where chemicals entered her body to kill the cancer.
"She's really proud of having it out and she's definitely excited about being done with treatment, although she'll still have to go to the doctor and get blood tests for the next several years," her mom said.
To celebrate the end of her ordeal, Frances raised $800 for cancer research this month with a lemonade stand at Cordonices Park in the Berkeley hills. The money she raised went to an organization called Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, named for 8-year-old Alexandra Scott, who died in 2004.
In 2000, when Scott was 4, she held a lemonade stand to raise money for other children with cancer. Since then the foundation has raised over $45 million for cancer research.
Sarah Abu Shanab said her daughter decided to do the lemonade stand after she saw some doctors having one at University of California, San Francisco Medical Center where she was getting treatment.
"This is one of the things we tried to instill in her from the beginning, that we are really fortunate to have people who helped us and we need to give back," said Abu Shanab said.
The word 'cancer' coming out of a doctor's mouth is just about the last thing any parent or adult wants to hear. The doctors told Abu Shanab's that her daughter's particular kind of cancer was "standard risk." According to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, 90 percent of kids under 5 who get it survive. Survival rates for all ages are 66 percent.
"Resilient is the only way I can describe her," said her kindergarten teacher Stacey Norman. "This is all she knew for this period of her life. It was her whole life. That girl could take a needle, injections, everything. I never heard her complain either."
Although the treatment is over and the Abu Shanab's are getting back to more mundane things, mom is aware there is a possibility the cancer could some day come back.
"But I'm extremely optimistic it won't," she said.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley