RAWLINS, Wyo. (AP) — Rawlins High School freshman Raquel Baldwin had a "last hurrah" as she played her saxophone in the school band during a basketball home match Jan. 17.
Diagnosed with cancer in December, Raquel shaved her head on Tuesday and faces 14 more rounds of chemotherapy in Salt Lake City. Until her treatment is over and her immune system is strong enough, she will be essentially homebound.
When Raquel discovered a tumor below her collarbone last year, the doctors thought it was benign at first. But on Dec. 20, it was revealed that it was Ewing's sarcoma, a rare disease where cancer cells are found in bones or soft tissue.
"I was devastated," Raquel said. "It hadn't even been in my mind that it could be cancerous. There was no signal and no symptoms."
Raquel's mother, Jamie, said while Ewing's sarcoma is rare, it is the second most common childhood cancer. Luckily, Raquel's cancer was completely encapsulated in the tumor and was not found in any other part of the body.
The tumor has since been removed and all scans were clear, but Raquel still has to undergo chemotherapy to reassure that the cancer doesn't come back. Jamie said Ewing's sarcoma is very aggressive, so in turn the chemotherapy has to be very aggressive as well.
Raquel attended the first day of the spring semester, and the next day she was driven to Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City to undergo the first round of chemotherapy. Her next round is this week.
Jamie said she decided to pull Raquel from school because people are susceptible to potentially deadly infections while undergoing chemotherapy.
Raquel can't wait to go back. "I miss school, I miss friends, I miss P.E., I miss running," she said. "I just want to get this done."
Jamie plans to have her daughter back in school by next January. "We want to have her immune system up before we send her back to the germ fest," she said.
Jamie, who was attending nursing school and working at the same time, took leave from her job to take care of Raquel. Jamie said her three other children have been very supportive, and Raquel's friends visit her often.
Besides the nausea and fatigue, Jamie said Raquel has responded well. "I'm proud of her," Jamie said. "She's such as strong young woman. She's determined."
"I went from being shocked to being angry to asking 'why me' to learning to accept it," Raquel said.
And despite her own condition, Raquel is still finding time to care for other child cancer patients. When her family went to Primary Children's for the first time, they saw all the babies and young children that were battling cancer. "I thought to myself, 'Why does it happen to them?'" Raquel said. "I'm older and I can handle it."
In response, Raquel is making bed buddies and hats to give to the children at the hospital. Jamie and her husband Doug donated their DNA and a sample of Raquel's tumor and marrow for research for a better cure.
Jamie said the community support has been "phenomenal." ''It's breathtaking to see this community come together like this," she said.
Eric McDaniel, the father of Raquel's best friend, is organizing a gun raffle to help the Baldwins with funds. Tanna Lopez is throwing a 31 bags party as a fundraiser. Premium Health at Home, which provides at-home care to Raquel and helps her monitor her white blood cell count, donated $500 to the family on Wednesday.
Sinclair Oil Refinery, where Raquel's father Doug is employed, offered a hotel room for the Baldwins to stay in Salt Lake City. Doug's boss and two coworkers have also been selling bracelets that say "Rock Solid: Raquel's Fight" to help the family out. Doug also wants to mention his former employer, Williams, in stepping up and contributing to various causes in the community in addition to his daughter's.
The Baldwins have also been trying to raise awareness for childhood cancer. They're encouraging people to hang a yellow ribbon outside their houses.
Through her training as a nurse, Jamie had been aware of childhood cancer, but it didn't hit home until Raquel's diagnosis. "I've seen it, read about it, and I've always had empathy for it, but when Raquel was diagnosed, my whole outlook on life changed," she said. "I don't get caught up in the little things anymore."
In the future, Jamie wants to contact Congress to try to get more funds allocated to childhood cancer research. "We want the same recognition for childhood cancer (as other cancers,)" she said. "These kids haven't started to live their life yet. It's unfair."
Information from: Rawlins (Wyo.) Daily Times, http://www.rawlinstimes.com