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Dallas’ Caitlyn McCarron battled leukemia for nearly five years when she was a child. These days, she’s one of Oregon’s best softball players.
June 12, 2013
DALLAS -- Do you remember the children's television show "Rolie Polie Olie"?
Caitlyn McCarron does.
"I remember sitting in the bed, watching it -- I was only 5," she recalled.
"They had one of those side TVs next to the bed and then they rolled me away. And right as I was going through the double doors, I just remember looking over at my parents and waving.
"That's all I remember."
What McCarron described was a fuzzy recollection of a major turning point in her then young, but eventful life.
She was on her way to surgery to have her Hickman line -- a catheter in her chest used to administer chemotherapy and other medications -- removed.
Shortly after that surgery, McCarron, after five years of battling acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was officially a cancer survivor.
Fast forward 13 years later, and it's hard to believe that the Dallas High senior shortstop, who had possibly one of the best prep seasons in Dragons softball history, had ever gone through such adversity.
Or spent the earliest parts of her childhood in hospitals, her body pumped with chemotherapy and other cancer-treating chemicals.
Amazingly, there have been no adverse effects.
"I feel like people don't look at me like, `Oh, you had cancer?'" she said. "They can't tell, there's no effects."
But after the Bradley-bound athlete put up numbers that included a .530 batting average, a 1.217 slugging percentage, 71 RBI, 15 doubles and 12 home runs -- making it easy to select her as the 2013 Polk County Player of the Year for high school softball -- it was pretty evident that what she's accomplished so far has been extra special, especially for a family, who at one point, feared the worst.
Caitlyn McCarron, bottom, and her mother, Cathy, at age 1 during leukemia treatment at Portland’s Doernbecher Children’s Hospital.
"She's a gift," said her mother, Cathy McCarron. "To see what she has become, I feel fortunate to be her mom.
"... I think she is who she is because of where she started. I don't think she would ever take that for granted."
Caitlyn was 10 1/2 months old when Cathy and her husband, Dan McCarron, decided to visit Cathy's family in Texas.
"Caitlyn was a very easy baby," Cathy said of her first child, born in March of 1995. "Very happy-go-lucky."
But when the couple arrived to their destination, something changed.
Caitlyn became clingy and fussy, and, sensing something wasn't right, the McCarrons took her to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with an ear infection.
The problem was, Caitlyn didn't get any better. She only got worse. After suffering from fevers, vomiting and other flu-like symptoms for several weeks, blood tests were done that revealed a terrible surprise: cancer.
"Honestly, I just remember sitting in the doctor's office just in shock," Cathy McCarron said. "I never thought in a million years I would hear the word `cancer.'
"She was our baby girl, our first child. I just remember driving home, weeping."
Once tests confirmed the existence of acute lymphoblastic leukemia -- a cancer of the white blood cells that causes them to overmultiply and crowd out normal cells - Caitlyn was rushed to Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, where she had several blood transfusions and then a quick surgery to implant the Hickman line in order to immediately administer chemotherapy.
"I remember driving up to Doernbecher that morning and Caitlyn's counts were just down to nothing. Her red blood cells were nearly gone and they were fighting for oxygen - she had nothing left in her to fight anything," Cathy McCarron said.
"There was below a 25 percent survival rate for her age ... it wasn't a good outlook."
Beating the odds
Caitlyn McCarron's family found one thing out very early: their daughter was a fighter.
Her body responded well to the first round of chemotherapy, and she was placed into temporary remission and allowed to go home after about two weeks.
Caitlyn McCarron was the MWC Player of the Year in 2013 as a senior.
She would return, in the first phase of treatment, for short rounds of chemotherapy and was allowed to return home. But the second, more intensive treatment phase required Caitlyn to stay in the hospital for a week at a time, every other week.
During treatment, the McCarrons also had to be careful with Caitlyn's exposure to the outside world, as she was much more susceptible to illness.
"For two and a half years, she had to have the chemotherapy and the drugs, and we had to shelter her, had to keep her away from sick people," Cathy McCarron said.
"We couldn't go camping anymore because of the germs ... I could go on and on."
But Caitlyn just kept getting better. After the chemotherapy treatment was over, the checkups became less frequent.
In 2001, at age 7, she had her official celebration of life, of complete remission.
McCarron still has to get everything checked out through an entire panel of doctors -- once every three years.
Her latest checkup was just last March. The diagnosis?
Another clean bill of health.
"It's kind of cool to see everybody," Caitlyn McCarron said of returning to Doernbecher, where her doctor, Dr. Lawrence Wolff, still works, albeit part time.
"They remember me, and (Dr. Wolff) likes to see us because he was such a big part of our lives."
After the monumental season McCarron had to finish her career as a Dragon -- where she was a four-year varsity starter -- she's ready to move on to Division I Bradley, where she plans to major in nursing.
McCarron, who graduated DHS with a 3.9 GPA, is thinking that children's oncology might just be a good fit.
"I like kids," McCarron said. "And then my mom had said that maybe my story would be good enough to help another push through. Like, `Oh, she did it, maybe I can, too' ... and just kind of give back to those doctors by giving them my time."
And as for mom and dad? They couldn't be more proud.
"She's an amazing kid and we have let her know her gift given to her was her life, and what you do with it makes a difference," Cathy McCarron said. "It's exciting to see that she's going into that field ... With her story, I can't wait for the day when she can go into a hospital and just give people hope."
ACUTE LYMPHOBLASTIC LEUKEMIA (ALL)
What: A form of leukemia, or cancer of the white blood cells, characterized by excess lymphoblasts. Malignant white blood cells continuously multiply and are overproduced in the bone marrow, which causes damage and death by crowding out normal cells in the bone marrow and spreading to other organs.
Who: ALL is most common in childhood with peak incidence at 2 to 5 years old and another peak in old age.
Treatment: Usually involves three phases -- induction therapy, with the goal to kill the leukemia cells; intensification therapy, with the goal to kill any remaining leukemia cells once the patient has gone into remission; and maintenance therapy, with the goal to kill any remaining leukemia cells that may regrow and cause a relapse. Chemotherapy, radiation and chemotherapy and stem cell transplants are standard types of treatment.