The foundation is dedicated to improving the lives of children
with cancer and their families by providing financial and emotional
support. It was first established in New Jersey and has recently
expanded to New York and Chicago. Comer Children's Hospital at the
University of Chicago has warmly welcomed Atia's Project Ladybug
fund. To learn more, visit projectladybug.org.
Follow Atia's journey
We had been in the emergency room for six hours.
SIX HOURS! It was our third visit in two weeks. My 17-month-old
daughter Atia was lying across my lap like a wet, limp rag. Her
energy was gone and her light was fading. She was no longer the
playful, spirited child she had once been. After a seemingly
insignificant fall, she had been suffering high fevers and violent
shaking spells, and had reverted back to crawling instead of
walking. And once she started vomiting, we panicked.
As we sat there, I looked down at Atia and studied her
angelic face, her desperate eyes pleading for help. My heart broke.
I knew something was very wrong. Resting my head on my husband
Steve's shoulder, I closed my eyes and cried.
Finally, after a light knock on the door, the doctor
appeared, taking slow, deliberate steps as she entered the room.
Her face was serious, but her eyes were full of compassion and
regret. She cautiously began explaining that Atia's white blood
cell count was alarmingly high, which can be a soft marker for
leukemia. There was no clear diagnosis at that point, but we all
knew it was serious; she needed to be hospitalized
As the doctor left the room, we sat in silence. Our lives
were on the verge of chaos and there were no words. We were in
shock and barely able to process what had just been revealed. We
looked at Atia. She had no idea the magnitude of this discovery,
but we knew she would soon suffer its consequences.
It would take several days and a multitude of tests to
confirm, but in the end we were told, "Your child has cancer."
Those four little words changed everything. We were utterly
terrified. That was the worst day of our lives. It felt like a
death sentence. I held Atia close and gently rocked her as the
doctors explained that she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
As they began describing the next steps, their words faded into the
background. It was all too much; I could not believe this was
Two and a half years earlier, after testing a mysterious
growth in my fingernail bed, I had been diagnosed with stage IIIb
melanoma and given a 50 percent chance of survival. Unlike a
typical melanoma, which manifests as an irregular mole, mine was a
colorless tumor. To fight it, I had a partial finger amputation, my
lymph nodes removed from my elbow and arm pit and a year of painful
Interferon treatment (similar to chemotherapy).
I was 28 years old and newly married.
So many times I had asked, why me? Now, I finally
understood. My own battle would become the foundation from which I
would draw strength and courage to help my daughter wage
Over time, Atia's complex treatment schedule became our
new norm. We cherished each day and celebrated the small victories.
We took nothing for granted, which included the support and love we
received from so many.
There is nothing good about cancer. However, it does have
the uncanny ability to bring people together-people whose paths,
under normal circumstances, would never have crossed. Of course,
our family and friends were on the front line offering assistance,
but it was the kindness from strangers-those who would later become
friends-that moved us even more.
Growing up we were told it is better to give than to
receive, but I have learned there is a time and place for both.
Those giving walked away with the same big smile and hearts full of
joy as they had granted us.
Today, nearly two years after her diagnosis, Atia
continues receiving daily chemotherapy. She has good days and bad
days, but overall she is doing well. I have been in remission for
five years and have recently partnered with Dina Manzo, former Real
Housewife of New Jersey, to bring her foundation, Project Ladybug,
to Chicago in Atia's name.
In the end, cancer has given my life a new purpose. What
once devastated me now inspires me to help others battling
Laura Lutarewych is a Chicago mom and writer.
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