A fight for the cure with love and Honor

By on January 18, 2012

By: MICHELLE REIFF Review Staff mreiff.eph@lnpnews.com, Staff Writer

Two-year-old Honor Hersh, a cancer survivor, hugs her mom, Kelli Dodson, at a recent Norlanco Relay for Life team rally. Her family has been named honorary chairs for this year's relay in June. (Photo by Stan Hall)Two-year-old Honor Hersh, a cancer survivor, hugs her mom, Kelli Dodson, at a recent Norlanco Relay for Life team rally. Her family has been named honorary chairs for this year's relay in June. (Photo by Stan Hall)

The news of a loved one being diagnosed with cancer is never easy to bear — especially not when that individual is your 16-month-old daughter.

Each year the Norlanco Relay for Life chooses an honorary family to celebrate the lives of those who have battled cancer , remember those who lost their battle and empower individuals to fight back against the disease. This year the family of Honor Hersh of Quarryville has been bestowed this designation and was greeted with open arms at a team rally on Jan. 10 at Cocalico High School.

Diagnosed in November 2010 with retinoblastoma, cancer of the eye, the youngster not only has the name worthy of the title but the story as well.

While other toddlers were playing with toys, visiting the park and saying their first words, Honor’s life was altered in a split second to one involving doctor visits, poking and prodding and life-altering surgery.

Honor’s mom, Kelli Dodson, can still vividly remember taking Honor to the doctor. When the sun hit the little girl’s eye earlier that day, she noticed it refracted red. Being a pediatric nurse, Kelli knew this wasn’t right. Her quick response may have saved her daughter’s life.

"When I went down to the doctor’s I almost didn’t ask," she explained, admitting she was afraid to find out what was wrong.

"She needs to see a specialist," was all he said.

Not even a day later she received a call.

"She needs to see a specialist NOW," her doctor said after further evaluation. This brought Kelli one step closer to what she had been dreading since the day before.

"I heard them talking about a mass in the eye. I asked them if it was malignant," said Kelli.

The next few words uttered by her fellow medical professionals made her stomach feel like it dropped to the floor.

"It sort of has to be or it wouldn’t be there."

At first Kelli didn’t know what to do. She went through the motions, watching her daughter cry through the necessary tests and procedures being done… all the while kicking herself inside. She and Honor’s father, Michael Hersh, had noticed symptoms of a lazy eye only a month before. All this happened in-between well-baby visits. So fast.

Honor was diagnosed with the malignant tumor on Nov. 7. She had her eye removed at Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia on Nov. 10…. not one day too soon. Doctors discovered the tumor had spread down the retinal cord and was headed to her brain. They determined she may have died by Christmas if it had not been discovered.

Honor began chemotherapy right away and lost her hair. Her family, including her siblings, Christopher and Paige, now six and nine years old, stood by her side as she was hospitalized over Christmas.

Coping seemed impossible to Kelli at first. The memory of supporting her father earlier that year, up until the time he lost his battle to lung cancer, was still fresh in her mind.

"I was scared to death because I view cancer more like an evil person… it had just taken my dad in May… babies don’t get cancer," she said.

It didn’t take long for the reality to set in that Kelli’s family needed her and she needed to be there 100 percent. She kept busy as the community pulled together and reached out to them.

"You would be surprised what you can do when you don’t have another choice," said Kelli.

Honor completed her chemo in May 2011 and has been in remission since June. Her family is relishing in their gift of her life and stand proud as the honorary chairs for the Relay event, which will take place shorly before they celebrate Honor’s third birthday.

In the wake of their experiences, Kelli has also taken on some new challenges. Instead of taking money for Honor, she gathers things for other local cancer victims. Kelli has the goal of encouraging companies to lower their administrative costs to promote more cancer research especially for children.

She has made a video of Honor on You Tube called "Fight Like a Girl: Honor Hersh," not only show her family’s experience but to gather support for Relay for Life and cancer research. The video was shown at the January rally.

"People are fighting to grow older and my child’s fighting to grow up," said Kelli. "I want everyone to see what it’s like to be a child with cancer versus a parent with cancer."

Norlanco Relay for Life will continue to hold team rallies periodically until the actual main event, set for June 15 at 4 p.m. through June 16 at 4 p.m. at the Cocalico High School Football stadium. It is a 24-hour non-competitive fund-raising event where teams of people from local businesses, schools, churches, families and friends take turns walking or running around a track for 24 straight hours.

The event will include: Friday — a survivor reception at 5 p.m., opening ceremonies at 6 and luminaria services at 9; 24 hours of fun and fighting back at cancer; and Saturday — closing ceremonies at 3 p.m., weather permitting.

The relay theme this year is "Reach for the Gold and Find a Cure for Cancer." Everyone is welcome to come to the relay and walk regardless if they are on a team on not. Visit relayforlife.org/panorlanco for details.

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