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Grateful for a Future

Grateful for a Future

Seven years ago, first grader Katie Ball had just finished her last chemo treatment. It was a day that had concluded a long, exhaustive, and emotional journey for her family. It was the first celebration of looking ahead to her future, the first of many yet to come.

At just 4 years old, Katie was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. ALL is the most common form of childhood cancer. It occurs when the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, which normally fight disease and infection. Katie’s treatment plan lasted 2 ½ years.

She initially had symptoms of a persistent virus with a high fever that would not get better. After spending four days in the hospital at Shannon, doctors sent her test results to Cook Children’s Hospital and Mayo Clinic for review. Her parents, Jason and Amy Ball received a call from an oncologist at Cook Children’s confirming her diagnosis.

“My jaw dropped when they told me the length of her treatment,” said Amy, “and they immediately put the plan in place. They did a bone marrow biopsy, a spinal tap, placed her port and she started chemo- all on the same day. It was a lot for a little girl and overwhelming for us, to say the least.”

After a month of treatment at Cook’s, Katie and her family returned home to San Angelo and spent the next 6 months traveling back and forth between the two hospitals for intense treatment. She was then able to begin her maintenance phase of treatment and begin receiving her chemotherapy at Shannon’s Pediatric Outpatient Chemotherapy Clinic.

Children’s Miracle Network provides funding for Shannon pediatric nurses to be certified to administer chemotherapy. This allows children and their families to stay in San

Angelo for this treatment so they can continue regular activities and be close to family and loved ones.

“Being able to stay at Shannon for Katie’s treatment was invaluable,” Jason says. “The pediatricians and staff at Shannon have a wonderful relationship with the oncology team at Cook’s. Staying here for the majority of her treatments helped us financially, emotionally, and as a family.”

Now, 7 years later, Katie just turned 14 years old and is in the 8th grade at Lone Star Middle School, just one semester away from high school.

“I’m really looking forward to getting to see my friends from other schools and having more freedom,” Katie says with a smile. “The thing I love most about school is all of my friends. We like to hang out and go to the movies. And I’m looking forward to my friends’ quinceañaras. I’ll be dancing in one in August.”

So much has changed for Katie since she first met the Children’s Miracle Network team at Shannon. Once a shy girl that would often hide behind her mom or dad, Katie has grown into a confident teen with a beautiful smile, lots of personality, and big dreams. And beautiful long, thick brown hair.

“I remember when she was bald,” says Amy, recalling Katie’s treatment. “Now, she has so much hair and she loves playing with and styling it and doing her friends’ hair.”

Katie has enjoyed getting to try out lots of new interests during middle school. She has played tuba in the band, competed in the swimming program, and went to her first dance.

“Art Class is my favorite,” she says. “I really love painting. We worked on perspective and did a mosaic with paper that was really fun. I’m going to do more art next year. And I might try band again but with a different instrument.”

Another big change for the family was the surprise addition of a little sister for Katie and her brother Owen. Bailey arrived 5 years ago, and Katie instantly took to her role as big sister and protector.

“She’s like my twin,” says Katie. “I like to take her to the park and spoil her.”

With all the activities Katie enjoys, her cancer journey seems more distant with each year.

“Sometimes I forget,” she says. Amy echoes that sentiment.

“It was day by day, appointment by appointment at that point,” says Amy. “Now it’s been so long that I almost forget until memories pop up on social media or until it’s time for her annual appointment each December. But, I like to remember. It makes me so thankful for where we are today.”

Katie will continue with yearly appointments with her oncologist at Cook Children’s to check her bloodwork. She recently went in December and her levels were all good.

The entire family remains an active part of Shannon’s Children’s Miracle Network, helping each year with the radiothon and telethon, and other events.

“We love giving back,” says Jason. “So many people gave and helped us when she was sick. Getting the word out about CMN and paying it forward is our way of giving back. It was such a blessing to us for sure.”

December 2020 marked 5 years of Katie’s remission. At that milestone, doctors determine a patient is cured of their cancer. It was in the middle of the COVID pandemic, so Katie didn’t get to celebrate with her original plans.

“We told her she could pick one thing she really wanted to do when she reached her 5-year mark, and she chose the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York,” says Amy. “Unfortunately with COVID, we couldn’t make the trip that year. So, she will hit her 10-year cancer-free mark when she is 16 years old, and we’ve told her she could pick something else.”

Katie quickly adds, “I want to go to Hawaii or Paris. I like the beach a lot and Hawaii is pretty, and I’ve always wanted to go to Paris. It’s hard to choose.”

We cannot wait to see what’s next for Katie as she makes her dreams come true.

“I’m looking forward to seeing her blossom into this amazing young woman,” says Amy. “I know that sounds cliché, but I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for her. We are just so grateful that she gets to have a future.”