Havre Daily News
BIG SANDY - Sunday, with the help of about 50 friends and neighbors, the Sheehy family said goodbye to cancer.
The smallest member of the family, 7-year-old Mariah Sheehy, was the reason for the celebration. She has been free of a rare form of cancer for more than five years.
Beginning today, Mariah said, there will be "no more cancer talk."
There also will be no more chemotherapy, radiation and bone marrow biopsies, mother Marjie said at the dinner table in the family's Big Sandy-area home.
"It's a thing of the past," Marjie said.
Mariah was too young to remember all that she, Marjie and 10-year-old brother Corey went through, but she's happy to move on to more important things. She wants to be a famous dancer when she grows up.
On Sept. 9, 1999, when Mariah was 15 months old, doctors in Seattle - where mother and daughter had been jetted just 12 hours before - told her that Mariah was suffering from a form of cancer called neuroblastoma.
"It was completely devastating," Marjie said. "Cancer was the last thought in my mind. I knew something was wrong, because ... she'd wake up in the night and just scream. She was completely inconsolable until finally when she'd wear herself out." An orange-sized tumor formed on her adrenal gland, adjacent to her left kidney, and the cancer spread through her body by way of bone tissue. Mariah had tumors in many of the bones of her body, including one in her skull.
Eventually, surgeons removed the tumor on the adrenal gland, along with her kidney.
The tumor in her skull damaged an optic nerve, leaving her blind in one eye. Radiation and chemotherapy left her with hearing loss, and a damaged thyroid means Mariah will have to take growth hormones until she's stopped growing. She also has to take thyroid medication and vitamins. The Sheehys are willing to deal with that.
"It's a big relief," Marjie said. "We're a cancer-free family. Cancer isn't about just one patient.
"It's been extremely hard on Corey," she added.
When Mariah had to spend almost a year traveling between Seattle and home, Corey stayed with his father in Big Sandy.
Big brother helped out when he could, becoming proficient at helping his mother change the dressings on Mariah's feeding tube while she was home, and occasionally traveling to Seattle to see his little sister.
"It was tough," he said. "I trusted the doctors, though."
Mariah is one of the good stories. After treatments in the Seattle hospital's intensive care unit, after not being able to eat because of the chemo, after having to be isolated in a clean, sterile apartment in Havre for fear of pneumonia, Mariah is free to jump, dance and play like any other little girl. She and her family believe a higher power was involved.
"Mommy says God gave me cancer so people could see his miracles," Mariah said. "There's something special about me."
"I have a very deep faith," Marjie said. "I think we all do. We've had miracles. There's no question in my mind."
Mariah's survival was good reason for celebration, so the family invited all who would come to join them on land near their home at the western foot of the Bear Paws for a picnic dinner. There were plenty of burgers and other good food, and a little humor.
Marjie saved some of the intravenous drip bags that used to sustain Mariah during her illness. Sunday night, they were filled with Kool-Aid.
All that is left now is for Mariah to play on her playground - a gift from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which came complete with a motorized merry-go-round - cuddle with her stuffed animals, and dance.
She also has a crush on a little boy. If it doesn't work out, she at least knows what she wants.
"I'm just a goofy girl," she said. "I'm going to get married to a goofy guy."