Leading the search for a cure

October 4, 2010

By Tim Pfarr

In September 2009, Newcastle resident and Maywood Middle School sixth-grader Sara Flash got sick and just would not get better. Doctors tried a variety of antibiotics to treat what they thought to be an ear infection, and then pneumonia.

Weeks after first becoming sick, Sara was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and was at Seattle Children’s for chemotherapy.

After three months of treatment, her cancer was in remission, and last month, she helped spearhead a fundraiser aimed at finding a cure for the very disease she battled.

Sara was invited to be an honored patient at the Light the Night Walk around Green Lake in Seattle Sept. 25, which raised money for leukemia and lymphoma research. She also co-captained the Friends for Life team that participated in the walk, which boasted a team of more than 60 and raised nearly $3,000.

Sara’s battle

The indication that Sara was more than mildly sick came one morning when she woke up feeling as though she had swallowed a softball.

“My mom didn’t really believe me until she felt my throat,” Sara said.

Allison remembered the lump, which she said was literally the size of a golf ball, and took her daughter back to their physician, who was stumped. They were then referred to Seattle Children’s, where Sara was given a CAT scan.

Just days later, she was in surgery for a tonsillectomy and biopsy of the lump. After surgery, it was three days before the diagnosis returned.

“Out world was turned upside down in a matter of days,” Allison Flash said.

Allison Flash and Sara’s father, Edward Flash, received the diagnosis together while Sara was still home recovering from the surgery, and they had to break the news to their daughter and their younger sons, Daniel and Adam, later that day.

“Anytime anybody mentions the word cancer, it’s pretty serious,” Edward Flash said. “It’s hard to imagine that it’s your child.”

The diagnosis had come Oct. 21, 2009, just four days before Sara’s 12th birthday, which she then spent in the hospital, beginning her chemotherapy treatment, which she remembers as unpredictable each day. As with most undergoing chemotherapy, she lost her hair.

Yet, both inside and outside the hospital, an army of people united in support of the girl in the fight of her life. Her family rallied behind her. Her friends rallied behind her. Doctors and nurses always leant a helpful and comforting hand.

“Just the humanity that was shown was astounding to us,” Allison Flash said, adding that the support at Maywood was overwhelming.

“Her teachers were beyond description. They were fantastic,” she said. “The secretaries in the office were amazing. The seventh-grade teachers who had never even met her were supportive. Everybody at Maywood was just incredible.”

Sara’s former fifth-grade teacher also volunteered to tutor her while she was away from school.

In January, Sara’s treatment was finished, and she returned home. In a matter of weeks, her hair was growing back, and she returned to school in March. She began by attending one period each day and steadily worked her way up to four periods by June.

Now, as a seventh-grader, Sara has returned to a full course load.

The fundraiser

Officials from the Light the Night Walk heard about Sara’s story and invited her to be one of three honored patients at the Seattle walk. She gladly accepted and began to organize a team of her own for the event, which she co-captained with her brother Adam, now 10.

She and Adam made it a goal to raise $2,000 and bring a team of 50 to participate in the walk, and they blew past both. Those on the team came from different facets of the Flash family’s life, and the youngest walker was just 4 years old.

The walk was a single trip around Green Lake, slightly less than three miles. Those who donated more than $100 were given lighted balloons to carry, with yellow balloons signifying those who had lost loved ones to the disease. Leukemia and lymphoma survivors were given balloons with white lights.

“It’s pretty impressive when you have all these balloons walking in the dark,” Edward Flash said.

He said it was moving to see the support, and touching to see his daughter honored.

“She can be kind of a symbol to other folks that cancer is something that you can beat,” he said. “That’s really one of the things that we stress to people.”

Allison’s promise

Sara now undergoes periodic scans to ensure she is still healthy, and the Flash family gives credit to Seattle Children’s.

“We can’t say enough about the hospital and the care that we got,” Edward Flash said.

Allison Flash agreed.

“The people who work on that floor are godsends, truly godsends,” she said about the oncology floor.

However, the pressure is now on Allison Flash.

On a particularly difficult day of treatment, Sara told Allison Flash that if she was able to go through chemotherapy, Allison could learn how to do something that terrifies her: go downhill skiing.

Allison had her first ski lesson at Mini Mountain Indoor Ski Center in Bellevue in September.

“I will probably break a leg in this process, but I will not break a promise to my child,” she said.

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