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Mother’s intuition leads to discovery of daughter’s leukemia PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 24 February 2018 10:55


 • Leader & Times

Mothers are well known for having instincts about their children, and recently on a visit to OU Children’s Hospital, Kristen Martinez had just such a feeling about her daughter, Grace.

“Something about her skin color wasn’t right,” she said. “No one else really noticed it, but it was bothering me.”

Martinez said Grace had been complaining about leg pain, and initially, the mother had thought it could merely be growing pains.

“We saw a specialist, thinking maybe some growth issues or something,” she said.

As they were about to leave their appointment and being told her daughter looked great, Martinez questioned the doctor about Grace maybe having anemia due to the unusual color of her skin.

It was then the doctor advised to have some blood work done on Grace. The blood work was done, and doctors told Martinez they believed the unusual skin color was nothing, but they would call her with the results.

Martinez said she and Grace had not even gotten to Yukon, Okla., not far from the OU Children’s Hospital, before they got a call from doctors saying that had found what they believed was a leukemia cell.

“They didn’t tell us on the phone,” she said. “They believed it was leukemia, but they had us come back as soon as we could.”

An appointment was made the following day, and indeed, leukemia was found in Grace’s body.

“We found out on a Wednesday that she did indeed have leukemia,” Martinez said. “By Thursday, she was already in for her chemo, and they had started treatment.”

Martinez, formerly from Liberal and now living in Beaver, Okla., just 40 miles from Liberal, said doctors know what it is like for a parent to get the news she got about Grace, so they immediately began working on her daughter’s case.

“It was a total shock,” she said. “She’s still so active. You can imagine, it took us by surprise.” 

Martinez, though, would soon find a silver lining amongst all of the bad news about her daughter.

“It’s a terrible situation you wouldn’t wish upon anyone, but the Oklahoma Panhandle, and I’ll include Liberal with that, they’ve just done so much for Grace, to show support for Grace,” she said.

Martinez said a journey such as Grace’s can be somewhat scary, isolating and lonely, but the silver lining of the communities of Liberal and those in the Oklahoma Panhandle have made it a little bit easier.

“By community, I mean all the way from Texhoma to Beaver and even Liberal,” she said. “They’ve really come together and shown support for us. There’s a lot of sweet things that have made a terrible situation not quite so terrible.”

Having grown up in a Christian home, Martinez said she has always had a relationship with the Lord. Even so, she said her faith has grown more in the last two months than in the previous 30.

“There’s nowhere you can turn when something like that happens, and your faith and our family, that’s only thing that’s really carried us through this,” she said. “I’ve always had Christ. I’ve known my relationship.”

Despite this, though, Martinez said she has never had a situation such as Grace’s to truly put her faith to the test and rely on God.

“I would say if there was ever a test, this has been it, and it’s grown more in two months than it has in 30 years,” she said.

Martinez said in the initial week of Grace’s case, she felt much in the way of anger.

“I think as a parent, you feel ultimate responsibility in some way for everything that happens to your child,” she said. “I felt, ‘Is God punishing me? How could God punish me by giving this to her?’”

Martinez would talk to the priest at her church, who reminded her of the biblical story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.

“A lot of terrible things happened to Joseph, and it wasn’t God punishing him,” she said. “Joseph was able to use horrible circumstances, and through that, he gave it to God, and God was able to use it for good.”

After hearing this, Martinez said a switch flipped for her, and she no longer saw the situation she was in as punishment.

“I was able to turn what was anger in that first week to ‘God did not do this to her, and that’s not how God operates,’” she said. “I can give this terrible situation to Him, and I can let Him use it for good. That’s been my daily prayer. It’s amazing to see how He’s used it for good, and that’s really just helped me through this. If this can be used for good, if this can strengthen people’s faith, if this can open people’s eyes, those are the silver linings. That’s God using it for good.”

Finding out a loved one has a disease such as leukemia can take a strain, emotionally, spiritually and financially, on a person. Martinez said as she was still in the hospital absorbing what had happened, people were already at work trying to lessen those burdens.

“We didn’t even know what was going on,” she said. “They had already started printing shirts, selling T-shirts to raise money for her medical fund. One of the neatest things, I think, the high school students, the basketball teams wanted to make their homecoming, rather than homecoming, it was turned to Grace Night.”

That homecoming was to take place in Goodwell, Okla., about an hour or so from Beaver, where the high school basketball teams were about to clash. It was there where the Martinez family found out about Monson, a Goodwell boy, who had been diagnosed with leukemia about four days before Grace’s condition had been found. Martinez said she was blown away that a child with similar circumstances was found this close to home.

“How crazy is it that was the team we were playing that night?” she said.

So, in honor of the two young leukemia patients, the night of homecoming turned into “Grace and Monson Night,” and Martinez said the Goodwell community went all out in recognition of the children.

“There were orange shirts everywhere, pink shirts for Grace because everything in Grace’s life is pink,” she said. “It’s just something about seeing those young adults understanding what this little girl is going through and wanting to support her.”

Martinez said this was just the beginning of the support she and Grace have received.

“She gets letters from Sunday schools just encouraging her,” she said. “Every time I go to the post office, there’s a sweet letter from some little kid that has heard her story and they’re praying for her.”

Martinez said many others have come forward wanting to help her family deal with the situation.

“We’re going every week to chemo, and it can get quite costly traveling up and down the highway just the four hours for us to get there,” she said. “So many people reached out to help us with fuel and getting us there. I’m blown away. There’s a lot more good in this world than we realize. It takes sometimes horrible circumstances to see it, but there are a lot of good people here in this part of the world.”

Martinez said there are few places in the world that are as tight knit as the Oklahoma Panhandle.

“In a small town, you feel things,” she said. “When one family’s hurting, the whole community feels it. It was just something that we could relate to. Goodwell was feeling it through Monson’s journey, and Beaver was feeling it through Grace’s journey. It was less about rivalry and homecoming and more about Grace and Monson, and that was really special.”

Martinez said Grace made it through her 35-day induction phase, where patients and doctors find out how well a body will respond to treatments, well, and many prayers have gone out to the family.

“I just can’t help but know that those prayers are what are getting through this,” she said. “She had zero leukemia cells in her bone marrow at the end of induction, which is what helped her from being considered high risk. That was amazing news for us.”

Martinez said side effects of chemo can be dealt with, but the emotional toll a disease such as leukemia takes on kids is, to say the least, a little tougher. The mother, however, said she believes her daughter has a better handle on the situation than she does.

“I just truly feel that the Holy Spirit has kept her at peace and got her through those tough questions,” she said. “I know I’m not giving her the best answers. I myself don’t have them. She’s just handling treatment so well and been so understanding that this is what we’ve gotta do and we’ve gotta get better and get healthy. She’s stronger than I am. She’s stronger than a lot of people.”

Of the three strains, Martinez said she believes the worst is the emotional side of things.

“Watching your baby hurt is probably the worst,” she said. “I cry when they hurt themselves playing outside, so to see her go through this, that’s emotionally been the hardest thing.”

Spiritually, Martinez said after a had first week, her faith has kept her together, as well as the family.

Many outside of the area ask why those who live here do so. Martinez said she knows why, and it is response to situations such as the one she is currently going through.

“The support for all of the traveling back and forth, people have just been so good to us,” she said. “I just can’t imagine it being any better anywhere else because we have been taken care of by our communities. That’s why you live in this part of the world.”

Grace, now 4, has the most curable kind of leukemia, and Martinez said her chances of survival on in the 90 percent range. The mother said as she continually waits for news concerning her daughter, she gets constant good reports, and this has given her confidence that Grace will get through her situation.

“Between the support and the amazing doctors at OU, I know it’s going to be a rough two years and three months for her treatment, but I really feel the doctors have made us feel like we’ve got this,” she said. “Grace has got this. She’s one heck of a fighter. Her body responded to treatment just like it needed to, so we are feeling very good. We just have to get through this next little chapter.”

Martinez said she is simply overwhelmed with the support she has gotten from people in the area.

“I’ve never had to swallow my pride and ask because they’ve already done it,” she said.




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