LEWISTON – Jenna Doucette, 6, was diagnosed with leukemia on her 4th birthday. After 26 grueling months of treatment, her cancer is in remission.
Jenna is anything but.
She’s in the spotlight, this year’s Portland Sea Dogs “Strike Out Cancer Slugger’s Kid.”
The ambassador position means that Jenna and her parents, Janet Verrill and Randy Doucette of Lewiston, are making public appearances for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program. The program has featured an annual Slugger’s kid since 1995.
The program raises money to help children with cancer and their families.
There’ll be a television ad featuring Jenna, a shy girl with brown hair and a ready smile.
She’ll throw out the first pitch at the May 20 Sea Dogs game. At a number of events this year, Janet, Randy and Jenna have and will meet and greet, talk about how the program helped them, and share their experience.
A first-grader at Martel Elementary School in Lewiston, Jenna is smaller than her classmates. The disease and treatment stunted her growth, her parents said.
It was near the beginning of July in 2003 when Jenna’s parents suspected something was wrong.
She was sick, had high fevers and broke out with bruises. Initially, doctors thought it was an infection. The bruises spread. “We took her back,” Randy said. “I said, You don’t get bruises on the back of your legs.'”
Blood tests were taken.
The phone rang on July 2, Jenna’s 4th birthday. She had leukemia. They were told to take her to the Maine Medical Center right away. Doctors gave her a 60 percent survival rate.
Her chemotherapy began the next morning. Within 17 days her hair began to fall out. “It was coming out so much we had to cut the rest of it,” Janet said. That upset Jenna, who never liked to get her hair cut.
“I told her I’ll get rid of all my hair. Daddy will, too,'” her mother said. “She didn’t want either one of us to touch our hair.”
Initially, the girl was hospitalized for three weeks. During the next two years she was hospitalized another 30 to 40 times. “I had a sandwich bag with all her hospital bracelets. It’s a good visual aid to show,” Janet said.
When Jenna was home, she wore intravenous tubes in her chest. Her parents and Jenna named them “tubies.” Using a syringe, her mother administered chemotherapy at home.
“She used to say, Mommy, no more medicine,'” Janet said. The treatment made her sick, nauseous, weak. She lost a lot of weight. Her parents promised her when her treatment was done she could get what she wanted: a puppy.
Hair grows back
The Maine Children’s Cancer Program helped the family in a number of ways, the parents said. If there was a medical bill they couldn’t pay, the program took care of it. They were given tickets to Disney on Ice shows, and presents at Christmas. The family was also provided a social worker. That’s important, Janet said. “Sometimes you feel like you don’t know where you’re going.”
None of that would be possible without fundraising, Randy said. “We want to do what we can in Lewiston-Auburn. This program is popular in Portland. I don’t know if people are as aware up here.”
Jenna’s treatments ended in August. Her hair grew back last fall.
Now she sees her doctor for check-ups. Until she’s gone five years without a relapse, she’s in remission, not cured.
Last week Jenna and her sister, Jamie, played at their home with the family’s newest member, a dachshund named Jasmine. Jenna got her puppy.