LEWISTON — Gigi Ouellette looks and acts like most active 6-year-olds.

The first-grader with a winning smile loves pizza. A student at Farwell Elementary, Gigi takes ballet lessons. She plays soccer and ice hockey.

But Gigi has another activity most her age don’t. She walks to raise money for the Maine Children’s Cancer Program. The next walk is Sept. 19 at the Auburn Mall.

“She’s been in the walk for the past two years,” said her mother. She has a walk team: “Gigi and Friends.”

The Sept. 19 walk is to raise awareness for local families dealing with a child who has a life-threatening cancer. The walk also raises money to support those families. Similar walks will be held in Augusta, Portland, Rumford, Sanford, Topsham and Waterville.

Gigi’s parents, Steve and Jamie Ouellette, know what it’s like to have a child stricken with cancer.

“When she was 3½, she had a lesion in her skull. That was removed,” her mother said, while tears welled up. Doctors removed the part of her skull bone that had been damaged by the disease and put a plastic plate in her head.

Her parents were told in most cases there are no future problems. But doctors found more abnormalities on Gigi’s hip.

“That’s when they went to chemo,” her father said. In all she had seven months of chemotherapy and four surgeries.
Gigi responded well, her father said. She recently hit her two-year mark of treatments ending.

Gigi’s early childhood memories include frequent doctor and hospital visits in Portland, radiation, chemotherapy, taking medicine, having her blood drawn.

The highlight of her trips to the doctors was picking a toy from the “treasure chest” at the Maine Children’s Cancer Program.

While the program’s medical staff helps children get better, its social services help families going through the trials of caring for a child with cancer. The program helps with money to pay for heat, phones or other needs.

In recent years the annual Lewiston-Auburn children’s cancer walk has not been successful, said organizer Marguerite McKeown of Lewiston, whose son is a cancer survivor.

The walk was held at Lewiston High School. Participation waned, especially when it rained. This year the walk has been moved to the Auburn Mall, where walkers will be guaranteed a rain-free place to walk. They’re hoping for a successful walk this year.

“Every cent raised goes to families and children and services,” McKeown said.

One of those families is Cindy and Ken Violette of Auburn, whose 10-year-old daughter Lea has been undergoing treatment after being diagnosed with leukemia last October.

“Last year she had a rough time,” Cindy said. She missed a lot of school at the East Auburn Community School. Some days she only had enough strength to go to school for an hour or two. Teachers and tutors have come to her home.

Lea’s been hospitalized. She’s had complications, including a blood clot in her shoulder. She’s undergoing chemotherapy. She’s been given shots at home by her mother, who is not a nurse. “But you learn to do what you have to do,” Cindy said.

The family tries not to get overwhelmed. “Never, never give up. Always keep fighting,” Ken said.

Lea is strong and has been able to tolerate everything.

“We’re so proud of her,” her father said. “That’s what has helped her is her attitude.”

Her parents want people to support the local walk.

“You always think it will happen to somebody else,” Cindy said. “It never seems to be that important until it happens to you.”

[email protected]

Go and do
WHAT: Maine Children’s Cancer Program Walk
WHEN: 9 a.m. Sept. 19, registration at 8 a.m.
WHERE: Auburn Mall
WHY: Raise money and awareness for Maine families who have a child suffering from cancer
FMI: Kathy MacDonald at [email protected], call 729-1148 or visit https://fundraising.mmc.org/NetCommunity/SSLPage.aspx?pid=246


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