WATERFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — The message emblazoned across Abby Greer's bib isn't just a cute seasonal slogan.
"Everyone is thankful for me" read the harvest-hued lettering on the 17-month-old's bib, as she played on the floor of her maternal grandparents' Waterford home.
Last Thursday was indeed a day for Abby's family to give thanks.
Abby beat brain cancer this year. So her parents, Kelli and Brandon Greer, and the rest of their extended families, filled grandparents Michael and Sandra Waller's home for a turkey day feast, along with Abby's delightful squeals at the many sets of blocks and other toys and books.
Also present, but unbeknownst to Abby, is another blessing: her sibling-to-be. Kelli Greer, 32, is six weeks pregnant, wonderful news for the pediatric nurse and her husband, who always dreamed of having a big family — even in the darkest days of Abby's illness.
"We want to give people hope, because this turned on a dime for us," said Brandon Greer, 34, an elementary school teacher in the Forest Hills district. "Bad things do happen and can be turned upside down."
The nightmare began after a week of nonstop vomiting misdiagnosed by their pediatrician. Only when they took Abby to Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, where Kelli Greer works, did a doctor suspect something was wrong after feeling that the soft spot on Abby's head was puffy.
It was the day Abby turned 10 months old.
A CAT scan revealed a brain tumor wrapped around her brain stem — an ependymoma that physicians theorized formed in utero and is very rare in a child so young. The Greers were told to give their daughter a kiss, because she'd be put into a medically induced coma for several days before what would be a 12 1/2-hour surgery to remove the tumor.
Brandon Greer remembered when, shortly thereafter in the intensive care unit, he knew things would be OK.
"I kissed her toes ... and she giggled. It was her first reaction. She had a little smile on her face. I never cried so hard in my life. I knew my baby was coming back to me."
That was followed by six weeks of radiation treatments five times a week.
Abby now has MRIs every three months to make sure the tumor hasn't returned. She'll be monitored for years to come, though less frequently.
But her recovery hasn't gone completely smoothly. She suffered a small stroke after her surgery and it affected some of her motor skills. Though she stands, Abby doesn't walk yet. She also lost the use of one of her vocal cords, though the other is overcompensating, allowing her to speak — loudly — when she's annoyed.
The tip of the purple scar from her surgery dips below her hairline to her neck, the rest is well-covered by the hair her parents feared wouldn't grow back.
"She's a fighter," Kelli Greer, a Kettering High School alumnus, said of her daughter who loves baths, Elmo and slides. "She has personality. She likes to cuddle."
Kelli Greer said the experience has made her an even more compassionate nurse, while Brandon Greer has become a bit anxious about every aspect of Abby's health. When she got a cold recently, he went out and bought $100 worth of thermometers — just to be safe.
The couple, who celebrated their third wedding anniversary in July, said the months-long ordeal made them a stronger couple.
Now, they look toward to the future — with Abby and a growing family.
"I look forward to the day when she brings home a boy with a mohawk, piercings and tattoos," Brandon Greer said. "I live for that day I throw him out of my house."
Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com