While Cherokee County has not been deemed by state health officials to have a cluster, most residents can name at least one child or family impacted by pediatric cancer. The surrounding counties also have their share of this disease affecting their children.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, but volunteers in Adair County will host the fifth annual Children of Cancer Glow Walk on Oct. 19 in the Westville City Park.
Patsy Winn owns a day care center, and one child's story led her to start this glow walk.
"When I first opened the center, I had a 6-week-old boy enrolled. Every afternoon, I had time with him to myself," said Winn. "He was like a grandchild to me."
The baby was Hudson Yancey, and right at his first birthday, he fell ill. His mother called Winn on a Monday to let her know he was acting oddly, and she was going to take Hudson to the doctor in Siloam Springs. While driving there, according to Winn's account, the mother was talking with Hudson and watching him in the rearview mirror.
"She saw his eyes roll back in his head and he slumped over," said Winn.
Hudson became lethargic, and the doctor's office sent the family to the local emergency room.
"They ran a CT scan or something and after about an hour and a half, they told her they spotted a tumor at his brain stem," said Winn.
Hudson was flown by Angel Flight to Little Rock, and the health professionals began tests.
"His mom called me crying. He was a year old and taped to boards to keep him still. He had all these tubes and IV. I cried," said Winn. "He was so little and scared."
The tumor was the size of a quarter at this point.
The family had to decide if they wanted Hudson to have surgery that day or wait for a specialist. They chose the specialist, but he didn't get there until Friday.
The tumor on Friday was the size of a chicken egg, according to Winn. The surgeon could not remove it all because, by that time, it had started growing into Hudson's brain stem. A pea-sized tumor was left.
His parents were allowed to take Hudson home for a few days. They had to decide to put him through chemotherapy and radiation to slow the growth of the tumor, or to not do anything. The growth wouldn't be stopped either way.
Hudson's family decided not to do the treatments.
"Within two weeks, Hudson passed. I was there holding him," said Winn. "He was a very special little boy. He was so bright."
Winn named the Westville event Hudson's Child of Cancer Glow Walk to honor him.
"The next year, two other kids in the county were diagnosed with cancer, and we changed the name of the walk," said Winn.
Proceeds are split between two organizations that helped Hudson's family. St. Jude's does research on the type of tumor Hudson had, and it receives 75 percent. The Ronald McDonald House gets 25 percent. Representatives from both organizations are usually at the Glow Walk and talk about their programs.
"Child of Cancer Glow Walk is an incorporated 501(c)(3) organization. The people on the board donate and volunteer," said Winn.
Last year's walk had about 100 participants and raised $2,500, but Winn said it was raining and cold. In previous years, they had raised $4,000.
"Last year, one mother looked around and said, 'There's not hardly anybody here. Are they going to forget about us?' Anybody who would like to come and show support is welcome," said Winn.
The walk is held after the Westville Fall Festival, 6-9 p.m., so participating teams are encouraged to fundraise during the day. Many dress up to glow, and awards are given for the team that glows the brightest, the individual who outshines everyone, and the team that raises the most money.
A survivor's walk begins the event, and team members take turns doing laps, so not everyone walks at the same time or the entire time.
"Get your tutus, tie dye, and paint your faces. Individuals can come and join and walk. We welcome everybody," said Winn.
"We do a lighted balloon release with messages to heaven. It's really pretty. We're bringing a cure to light."
Winn said the event is to make more people aware of childhood cancer and to help families affected by it.
"It seems like there is so much more of this happening. We like to help the researchers, and stop some of the senseless suffering the families have to go through," said Winn. "Families don't understand why this happens. Some have had tests done because they wanted to know if they had anything genetically wrong."
Those who can't make it to the walk in Westville can choose to bid on items during the online auction. Donations will be accepted until Oct. 12, and the auction will be Oct. 15-17. Winn said donations from the Tahlequah area can be picked up, and items won on the auction can be shipped.
For more information, visit the Children of Cancer Glow Walk Facebook page, or call Patsy Winn at 405-249-8360; April Sallee at 918-905-1163; or Julie Woods at 479-879-6504.