By Tim Eberly
Whether it serves as a constant reminder of her life-threatening illness or of the strength she summoned to overcome it, Andrea Moore favors her bald head.
"She likes the baldness," Andrea's mother, Denise, said. "She's comfortable with it. She said if she could, she'd let it stay bald."
Since Andrea was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, she has spent a good portion of the time without the straight, dark hair that once graced her head. Denise helped Andrea cope with her hair loss by shaving off her own hair in 1996 and again in 2000.
When Andrea fell out of remission the first time late in 1996, her hair grew in curly, a displeasing surprise.
Now in her second remission, the 10-year-old has another week until the effects of chemotherapy treatment wear off, which will allow her hair to regrow.
"I'm going to let it grow back and see how it looks," Andrea said. "If I don't like it, I'll just shave it off."
Bad hair days may be a refreshing change of pace for Andrea, because in the last 16 months, they have been the least of her worries.
In October 2000, she relapsed two weeks before the four-year anniversary of her remission. Doctors told Andrea her chances of survival were slim, so she spent the next 16 months in Children's Hospital and Medical Research Center in Seattle, fending off the cancer with heavy doses of chemotherapy.
"Sometimes I cried because I missed home so much," Andrea said. "But I got through it OK. I just played with my friends."
Denise and her husband, J.B., along with Andrea's older brother, Junior, were told Andrea would be ready to come home to Havre for Christmas. She had already endured eight different cycles of chemotherapy a total of 16 one-week treatments and five surgeries. By that time, the Moore family had become accustomed to disappointment.
"You can't get excited until you're actually on the road," Denise said. "Because anytime we were told she was going to go home, there was something that came up."
Weeks before her scheduled departure, Andrea's blood counts dropped dangerously low. She contracted a viral infection, forcing doctors to place her on antibiotics for two weeks. The mixture of radiation and chemotherapy also caused swelling in Andrea's brain. "So we didn't get excited until we were out of the hospital, and on our way home," Denise said.
They arrived home on Jan. 16. Andrea still must to go to Great Falls every two weeks for lower doses of chemotherapy. Since medication has affected her nervous system, Andrea periodically wears a pair of leg braces. Because her immune system is still not up to par, she cannot attend school with other children and started home-schooling Monday. Each morning, Denise goes to the Sunnyside School to pick up her daughter's daily assignments and brings them home.
Cleaning their house was the first order of business when the Moore family arrived home. Dust and grime are not compatible with Andrea's infection-prone system. The family stayed with Andrea's grandparents in Havre for a few days while the house was sanitized.
Though J.B. split time in Havre and Seattle, the rest of the Moore family lived in the Ronald McDonald House with 19 other families of patients. Junior, 13, attended the sixth grade at the Fred Hutch School, a private school for siblings of cancer patients. Andrea took classes on the second floor of the hospital, though teachers often had to conduct lessons at her bedside.
"All the nurses know me there," said Andrea, who had 21 doctors. "Pretty much everybody in the hospital knew me."
While in Seattle, donations allowed the Moore family to attend professional sporting events in the area, like Mariners and Seahawks games. Actors Tom Arnold and Angelina Jolie paid visits to Andrea. One area athlete, former University of Washington basketball player Thalo Green, gave Andrea an unlikely gift: his hair.
In coordination with the Ohio-based Wigs For Kids organization, Green grew his hair out for 16 months with the intent of providing it as a wig for Andrea. When he finally cut his locks, workers from the nonprofit Wigs For Kids made the wig for Andrea.
Collecting Beanie Babies became Andrea's passion during her time away from home. She brought more than 200 stuffed animals back to Havre. Yet the collectibles have done little to console Andrea for the friends she made and lost in Seattle.
"Actually the worst part about it was having friends pass away," said Andrea, who lost eight friends to cancer.
Her best friend in Seattle, 10-year-old Miranda, had a brother with a tumor in his lung. Despite the tragedy looming around them, they would pass time like normal preteen girls. "Sometimes we made up dances for some of the songs we liked," Andrea said.
On one of Andrea's first days back in town, a former Havre classmate named MaKayla stopped by the Moore residence for a visit. Andrea showed her old friend what she had been doing in Seattle.
"I showed her all of my Beanie Babies," she said.