HARMONY, Maine — Perky little Caitlin McKenney had hellos for everyone who spoke to her as she ran and danced Sunday with her friends at the Harmony Free Fairgrounds.
Caitlin’s wide grin, that framed a missing tooth, told the world she was happy despite having a kidney removed in June. The pink bandanna covering her head was the only telltale sign the 8-year-old had earlier danced with cancer.
“It’s just a bump in my life,” the Harmony girl quipped Sunday when asked about the cancerous tumor that caused her to lose a kidney and introduced her to chemotherapy.
Recognizing that the disease also takes a toll on the family, the community, under the direction of Jeff and Mel Chadbourne, threw a fundraising party for Caitlin and her family Sunday complete with a pig roast and concert by Jillian Cardarelli and her band from Haverhill, Mass.
Cardarelli, who was contacted by Mel Chadbourne, offered to do a free concert when she heard Caitlin’s story. Cardarelli, 17, has performed throughout New England including at Fenway Park for the start of a Red Sox game.
As Cardarelli performed Sunday, Caitlin moved to the music while she sat in the bandstand for most of the performance. Beside her, showing their solidarity, were friends who also wore colorful bandannas on their heads. They sported pink Silly Bandz bracelets for cancer awareness.
“She was really afraid people would make fun of her because she had no hair, so we all wore bandannas in support of her,” Madison Chadbourne, 12, said Sunday. “I think it’s scary for an 8-year-old to have cancer and very hard for parents to take the news.”
Madison Chadbourne and others in the group helped prepare for the fundraising event. They also have raised funds for cancer by participating annually in Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which is planned for September.
Erica Lommel, 11, said she has learned a lot about cancer over the past few years. “When I was young, I didn’t understand when my father got cancer,” she said. Lommel said she hopes to help other youngsters understand the disease so they, too, can help Caitlin.
Caitlin, who asked that her head be shaved when she began loosing her hair from chemotherapy, takes the disease in stride. “It’s OK, I’m taking it very well,” she said maturely.
And she has taken it well, according to her mother and father, Tracy and Brian McKenney. “I call her my supergirl, she’s been so positive all along,” Caitlin’s mother said Sunday. Caitlin had a Wilms’ tumor removed along with her kidney, and she is now in her 10th week of chemotherapy. Her prognosis appears to be good, Tracy McKenney said.
It was bad headaches, sharp stomach pains and fatigue that sent Caitlin to the doctors in June. Several tests were conducted without any signs of problems before Caitlin passed blood in her urine, according to her mother. The tumor was then diagnosed.
“The whole thing has been overwhelming to us,” Tracy McKenney said. She said her family couldn’t thank the community enough for its prayers and support through Caitlin’s ordeal.
To Caitlin, “they’re all just friends.”