Sarah Robeck misses her first-grade friends at Audubon Elementary School.
Last month, the six-year-old Redmond girl was diagnosed with a blood cancer called ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia). She’s undergoing chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital in Seattle and can’t attend school due to her weakened immune system.
Usually happy and playful, Sarah’s now moody because of her medication and doesn’t want her mother to leave her side.
Meanwhile, her eight-year-old brother Jacob, a second grader, has been anxious while Tannia, a single parent, struggles to give attention to both children and continues working as a billing specialist for Secor International Inc.
It hasn’t been easy, but the family is braving the storm with love and support from near and far.
Tannia’s mom, Margarita Powell, came out from California when she learned of Sarah’s illness. Audubon principal Karen Dickens, Sarah’s teacher Karen Martin and Jacob’s teacher Erin Zacharda “have been right on top of it, educating the other students about what is going on with our family and looking after Jacob,” Tannia noted.
“The YMCA (on Bel-Red Road) has been a stable foundation,” Tannia continued. And Kathy Watson, the mom of Sarah’s best friend Tyler, has pitched in by taking Jacob to and from school. Watson’s also rallied friends at Westminster Chapel “for prayers, moral support and getting people to donate gift certificates from restaurants.”
The family’s landlord has been very kind, too, lowering their rent for the next six months so that Tannia can use the extra money for Sarah’s needs.
It’s still hard for Tannia to grasp that Sarah has leukemia. She had no symptoms such as fever or weakness. The only odd thing was that Sarah had woken up at night several times, complaining of pain in her foot or ankle. Tannia thought it was “growing pains.” And after Jacob had a check-up and a doctor said he might be low on vitamin D, Tannia reasoned, “Maybe Sarah has a vitamin D deficiency, too.”
A battery of blood tests and bone scans ensued, and although doctors looked concerned, Tannia didn’t expect the news they gave her.
“I couldn’t accept it, didn’t want to know,” she said. “You think that when your child is sick, you can give them Tylenol and they’ll feel better.”
Sarah is nearing the end of phase one of her chemotherapy. At that point, a bone marrow extract will determine what phase two of treatment will entail. Her doctors are hopeful she’ll be back in school within six months and cancer-free within two years.
“She’s tough — she knows that if she wants to get well, she has to do this,” said Tannia. “Her biggest fear is losing her hair. She doesn’t want anyone to see her that way. I told her when she loses her hair, I’ll shave mine off. What we look like on the outside is not important, it’s who we are inside.”
As for Tannia, “My work is my outlet. I have to keep busy,” she said. She added that her boss Lori Seward and co-workers have been wonderful: “They know I love my job and they’ve allowed me to work at home.”
Because she has insurance coverage, Tannia believes that most of Sarah’s medical bills will be covered, but she has set up a bank account in case of unforseen circumstances. Donations to the Account for Benefit of Sarah Robeck can be made to account number 340-325059-5, at any Washington Mutual branch.
Tannia’s also encouraging Redmond neighbors to make donations to Candle Lighters (www.candlelighters.org), an organization which provides books and hope to parents of children with cancer. She’s seen kids from six months old to teens in the cancer ward at Children’s Hospital and wishes all of the families could have the same support that she’s received.
“God has blessed us with a whole bunch of great people and that gives me more faith that Sarah, in the end, will be just fine,” she concluded.