A warrior princess in pink, preschooler battles cancer

Photography by Greg Lovett

Nominated by Pediatric Oncology Support Team

It began with a juice box. A Capri Sun, to be specific. Four-year-old Calliah Pierre, normally an energetic little girl who loves pink, purple and Doc McStuffins, began complaining of stomach pain in June. She could barely eat or drink, and she had trouble finishing her juice.

That raised a red flag for her parents, Calvin and Ruth.

“Most kids ask for two or three Capri Suns,” Ruth says. “The fact that she wasn’t even finishing half a Capri Sun. I was like, ‘Something’s not right.’”

Calliah’s parents made several trips to the doctor with their older daughter — their younger daughter, Carissa, is 2 — and were told Calliah probably was suffering from constipation. They were prescribed medication and sent home.

But once back at the family’s Loxahatchee home, Calliah didn’t get better. Then Calvin, 36, felt a lump on his daughter’s stomach. He brought her back to the doctor, who advised him to take Calliah to the emergency room right away.

Ruth, 30, who was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at age 16 and battles chronic pain, was in the hospital and not able to join them.

A CT scan confirmed Calliah had a tumor in her abdomen, and further tests led to a diagnosis of stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare, aggressive cancer that is seen in fewer than 20,000 children per year.

“It put everyone in utter shock,” Calvin says. “We just didn’t see this coming. My wife has sickle cell, and I mentally prepared myself for that. But for Calliah, with any parent, that’s the last thing you want.”

Calliah immediately was admitted to Palm Beach Children’s Hospital, where she spent the next 42 days undergoing treatment. Her chemotherapy treatments led to fevers and vomiting. She had other serious complications, including high blood pressure, and she needed a temporary feeding tube.

The experience was a difficult one for her parents, who alternated nights with Calliah at the hospital. It was also difficult for Carissa, who didn’t understand why her sister and her mom weren’t home for their usual family dinners.

“She calls the hospital her sister’s house,” Calvin says.

Calliah tickles her dad Calvin while she receives chemotherapy.
Calliah tickles her dad Calvin while she receives chemotherapy.

Calliah was released from the hospital Aug. 27, but faces many months of treatment.

Already, Calvin and Ruth have taken their daughter to Miami for stem-cell collection, and to Atlanta for a specialized three-week treatment to fight the cancer.

Surgery on Calliah’s tumor awaits, as does a stem-cell transplant in Miami followed by four weeks of daily radiation — also in Miami — and then six months of immunotherapy. All told, Calliah requires another 16 to 20 months of treatment.

Calvin and Ruth remain optimistic about their daughter’s future, but they are struggling to make ends meet as Calliah continues her treatment. Both have had to take significant time off from work to be with Calliah, and they worry about income. They are facing mounting travel expenses, and they do not have reliable transportation as Calvin’s car needs repairs and Ruth’s car has mold.

Still, they are grateful — not only for the support of their loved ones and church but also for the strength exhibited by their little girl.

“She knows there’s something inside of her that’s making her sick, and it’s going to take time to take it out,” says Calvin. “We’re going to get it out.”

CALLIAH’S WISH

Calliah Pierre, a spirited 4-year-old who loves pink, purple and Doc McStuffins, was diagnosed with a rare cancer in July. She’s already endured four chemotherapy treatments and will need to undergo surgery, a stem-cell transplant and other therapies during the next 16 to 20 months. Her parents have been unable to work regularly during her treatments, and they are struggling to keep up with the many expenses they have accumulated. The family could use help in repairing their cars so they have reliable transportation to get Calliah to her medical appointments and hospitalizations. They also need help to pay for basic needs like the mortgage, groceries, clothing, shoes and learning materials for Calliah and her 2-year-old sister.

Nominated by: Pediatric Oncology Support Team Inc., 561-882-6336