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Leonard Elm. rallies to help Gillian

by CJ Carnacchio

May 25, 2011

This is a photo of Leonard second-grader Gillian Yocum on May 7, the day she made her first communion at St. Andrew Catholic Church in Rochester. Photo provided.
Leonard Elementary second-grader Gillian Yocum is literally fighting for her life, but she's not doing it alone.

She's got an entire school behind her.

A spaghetti dinner/silent auction fund-raiser for Gillian, who was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) earlier this month, will be held at Leonard Elementary on Wednesday, June 1 from 5:30-8 p.m.

Proceeds will help the Yocum family, who's lived in Addison Twp. for about six years, pay for Gillian's medical treatments, the cost of which was described as "substantial."

"I'm in awe of all the attention that my daughter's getting and all the love and the thoughts and the prayers," said Kristie Yocum, Gillian's mother. "Everybody seems to want to do something."

"I don't even know what it costs to cure a child with leukemia," she noted. "I'm not focused on that; I'm focused on her."

Gillian is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments.

"Her hair just started to fall out this (past) weekend," said Steve Yocum, Gillian's father. "She likes her hair, so that's going to be a little hard for her."

"We are going today (Tuesday) to a salon called Wigs for Kids and she's going to get a wig," Kristie said.

Over a 26-month period, Gillian will undergo three phases of chemotherapy induction, consolidation and maintenance designed to put her into remission and prevent relapse.

Gillian's cancer was basically discovered by accident.

"We stumbled upon this because they were testing her for Lyme disease," Kristie said. "We went on Easter vacation in (the mountains of) Georgia and she didn't feel good on the 13-hour drive back home . . . She didn't seem right to me. She was a little off."

Tests conducted on her bone marrow and spinal fluid revealed Gillian was suffering from ALL, a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells.

In ALL, the bone marrow produces lots of abnormal cells called blasts as opposed to the normal lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell that fights infections.

These blasts multiply quickly, crowding out the normal red and white blood cells and platelets the body needs.

When she heard the news, Sarah Ashley, Gillian's teacher at Leonard Elementary, said she was "devastated."

"You don't want that to happen to anybody, especially a child," Ashley said. "Gillian's an awesome kid. I was heartbroken."

The good news is ALL is "85 to 92 percent curable," according to Kristie.

Everyone says Gillian is handling this whole situation very well.

"She's being very brave," Kristie said. "She's my hero. She's impressing me with her maturity and her strength."

"She's a trooper," Ashley said.

Ashley visited Gillian in the hospital and said, "She's handling herself very bravely and she's in good spirits. She's still got a smile on her face."

Gillian's favorite subjects in school are art, music and gym.

As a student, Ashley described Gillian as "very bright, bubbly and kind."

"She loves her friends. She loves her teachers. She loves her school. That's her world," Kristie said.

Kristie described her daughter as a "flower."

"She's very sweet," she said. "Her heart is huge. She's kind to everybody. From the get-go, she never did anything wrong. I'd tell her no and she'd say, 'Okay, mama.' She's a good girl. She's my beautiful girl."