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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Salem girl battles bone cancer

Thursday, December 4, 2003

Staff Writer

She doesn't sit in a classroom with other students. She can no longer attend slumber parties. Attending basketball games is out of the question. Life has changed dramatically for 14-year-old Charolete "Charlie" Fern Williams of Salem who is battling cancer.

Charlie, named after her grandfather's sister, has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, said her mother, Teresa Williams.

Charlie cannot attend school for the next 12 months. Mrs. Williams said another student could unintentionally harm Charlie just by playing around. She would like to go back to school but it's impossible for now, Mrs. Williams said.

She cannot even have visitors because her immune system is so weak. Her platelet count has decreased so much that an infection could cause her body to hemorrhage. A mild cold could be fatal to her daughter, Mrs. Williams said.

The disease usually affects teen-agers between the ages of 15 and 20. Once the bone has been infected it must be removed, said Mrs. Williams. Charlie will need to have four to six inches of bone removed from her right knee. In its place will be a rod similar to what accident victims receive who suffer from crushed bones.

Before she can undergo surgery she has to have chemotherapy treatments which have made her sicker. She had her first treatment Sept. 30 and will continue until the cancer shrinks. She is undergoing what doctors refer to as the red devil dose which has caused her to lose her hair.

Even after surgery she will have to continue her treatments for about six more months to clean particles from her blood stream.

She has also undergone two MRIs, a full skeletal scan, leg scans, hearing tests and echoes and lung scans. She even had to have her heart tested.

Mrs. Williams likened Charlie's treatment to injecting poisonous chemicals into her system.

Since Charlie started her treatments her senses are heightened and she cannot tolerate loud noises or smells. She cannot stand to taste foods except macaroni and cheese.

She is extremely sensitive to touch. Hugs and kisses are out of the question.

Since her first treatment she has undergone a major personality change, Mrs. Williams said. She said her daughter's attitude became negative after she watched babies and young children receive the same treatment she does.

Charlie has a port in her chest which makes the treatments a little easier. Chemotherapy is injected through the port instead of her veins.

She was first diagnosed Sept. 18 by a doctor in Mountain Home, but her symptoms started while she attended basketball camp in Russellville in July.

One day she was a normal kid at basketball camp and the next she was hurting and sick.

When she returned home she complained of pain above her knee. The cancer attacked her femur bone.

Doctors estimate the cancer attacked her body about six months prior to it being discovered. Mrs. Williams said medical personnel told her the cancer usually spreads from the bone to the lungs but Charlie got lucky -- the cancer stayed in the bones.

Since her chemo treatments began she has been sick and has lost about 14 pounds. Her energy is low and she vomits often.

Staying at home hasn't been an easy task for her; she always enjoyed basketball, softball, track, cross country and band.

Charlie has always been an active teen-ager who doesn't sit around and play computer or video games; she enjoys the outdoors more than being indoors.

She loves school and being around her friends. Two of her friends, Cori Long and Erin Gaskins, keep her informed of the latest school gossip. When she was first diagnosed her friends were allowed to visit, but now the only link with her friends is through phone conversations.

Charlie has two sisters, Crystal, 15, and Isaphene, 6.

Mrs. Williams said when Isaphene found out about her sister's condition she would cry often. The tears got worse when Mrs. Williams and Charlie would have to leave for Little Rock for continued treatments. She said Isaphene started having emotional problems in school, but her teacher, Mrs. Henley, has helped her through the emotional upsets.

Wanda Gill, Teresa's mother, helps care for the children when mother and daughter are in Little Rock. Friends have helped too by bringing food to the house.

She said the family is closer now than before. She said Crystal worries about her sister and the two are kinder to each other.

Area churches have placed the family on their prayer lists and have taken up donations. "They have been absolutely great," Mrs. Williams said.

Salem residents Barton and Betty Teague gave the family a car to help with the trips to Little Rock.

She said the community has opened up their hearts with love offerings and meals.

After hours a local hair stylist, Evelyn Stuart, cut Charlie's hair to help keep her spirits up. She said Stewart came in when the shop was closed so Charlie would not be exposed to germs and human contact.

Life has changed for Mrs. Williams too. She use to work three jobs -- at a nursing home, at Diary Queen and caring for an elderly man. But she can no longer work because of the demands of Charlie's disease.

An account has been set up at FNBC in Salem and Mammoth Spring in the name of Evelyn Stuart for Charolete Williams to help with medical expenses.

Concerned friends served the family Thanksgiving dinner and are planning fund-raisers, said Cindy Poulsen, a family friend. "Everyone has been really helpful," Mrs. Williams said.

When Charlie found out she had cancer she did not fall apart. She is a brave girl who has learned to deal with hospital visits and treatments. "Charlie has a lot of pride and we are going to fight this," Mrs. Williams said.

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