Kelis Smith is determined to show off her jungle gym skills at Lions Club Park in Killeen, but in between the parking lot and that particular piece of playground equipment, there are swing sets to swing on, slides to slide down and a rock wall to climb.
Kelis is like any other youngster at the park except she’s being treated for leukemia.
The daughter of Elis McBride-Smith and Anthony Smith, Kelis, 6, was diagnosed with leukemia four days before her fifth birthday.
McBride-Smith took Kelis to the doctor several times because she was constipated, but none of the recommended treatments were working.
“We went to Scott & White to have her (Kelis’) bowels cleaned out, and the nurse came in and said, ‘Something funky is going on with her blood work,’” McBride-Smith said.
Another blood sample was taken, after which McBride-Smith was told a doctor was going to come in to talk to her.
McBride-Smith was informed her daughter likely had cancer, but the type was still unknown.
McBride-Smith’s first reaction to the cancer diagnosis was disbelief.
“I was calm and just wanted to know the next step,” she said. “I’m a Christian and believe in the power to heal.”
McBride-Smith called Kelis’ father to tell him what was going on.
“He was very upset, so I felt like I had to be strong,” she said.
The day before her birthday, Kelis had a bone marrow test, and a port for chemotherapy treatments was placed.
McBride-Smith said the first time she cried was when she called her grandmother. She began to sob and couldn’t stop.
Handles treatment well
Kelis has handled the treatments over the past 18 months with few problems, other than not feeling well after chemotherapy and becoming a possessed child five days a month as a result of steroid treatments, according to her mother.
McBride-Smith asked Kelis to tell her when she didn’t feel well, but has never used the work “sick” around her daughter.
In most cases, the family doesn’t know there’s a problem until they arrive at the clinic and blood is drawn.
“Her blood counts would be low, but she never acted tired,” McBride said.
Kelis was diagnosed in April 2012 and didn’t lose her hair until August.
“By November, we were starting to see peach fuzz,” McBride-Smith said.
Kelis, a first-grader at Trimmier Elementary in Killeen, didn’t talk much about her treatments, other than to show the location of her port.
She did say she liked playing her guitar and can embellish the ever popular hand turkey with style.
She wants a bakery for Christmas, something like an Easy Bake oven.
“I’m going to make cookies, cakes and cupcakes,” Kelis said.
Kelis is an only child and gets away with a lot, except at school, her mother said.
“She’s enthusiastic and very affectionate, wanting to hug everybody,” McBride-Smith said. “I have to remind her to ask permission before she hugs somebody.”
Learning about cancer
During the course of her daughter’s illness, McBride-Smith has become an expert on pediatric leukemia and carried around a journal with questions and information she found and wanted to discuss with staff in the pediatric oncology department at Scott & White.
“The staff is amazing,” she said. “When they are with Kelis, I feel like she’s the only patient they have. They worked with me so I would know what to anticipate with the various treatments and what I could do.”
Some family members and friends were quick to suggest alternative treatments, which McBride-Smith said she ignored.
“I trust the staff,” she said. “I’m amazed because I’m seeing people who are truly working in their God-given purpose and it seems effortless for them.”
Through it all, Kelis has been a trooper.
“My daughter is my hero,” the proud mother said. “She has been a champion and has not missed a beat.”