HOWELL – It was the repeated fevers that worried her parents.
Mia was barely into toddlerhood when her parents, Mike and Teresa Castellan, took her to an infectious disease specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Initial tests came back clear.
But then the family received the news: 15-month-old Mia had t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
This type of childhood leukemia accounts for 10 to 15 percent of all childhood lymphoblastic leukemia cases, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. Children with this leukemia also have a worse prognosis.
Mia suffered through 10 months of intense chemotherapy, picking up life-threatening infections along the way. It upended her family’s life, including brothers Ryan, now 10, and Logan, now 8 and has Down Syndrome. Mia transitioned to a maintenance regimen, and looked cancer free, until she relapsed last May. The only treatment that remained was a bone marrow transplant.
An unrelated, anonymous donor was found, and in August Mia had the transplant. So far, her prognosis looks good. The now 3-year-old’s bloodwork, which is done monthly, has shown the bone marrow transplant worked—her blood shows 100 percent donor cells. Her bone marrow numbers aren’t 100 percent, but Teresa said they are good and increase each month.
The Howell Township residents had to rent an apartment in Philadelphia after the transplant to be near the hospital should Mia run into complications, like fever spikes, which happened several times.
“It’s crazy, it’s a lot for the boys, they’ve been through a lot. We’ve been in and out of the hospital. When Mia had her transplant, I lived with her in the hospital,” Teresa said. “That was tough. It was over a month that I didn’t see them. It’s a lot for them, because any time she gets sick, they don’t know, they’re worried, is Mom going to be gone for a day, a week, weeks. There’s a lot of unknowns, so it’s pretty stressful on them.”
The community has rallied around the Castellans, this time through the Knights Of Columbus in Jackson. It was a friend-of-a-friend thing: the knights asked around, a friend knew the Castellans story.
The KoC is hosting a fundraiser for Mia on February 26. It’s the 17th annual Race for Life hosted by the Knights, on Daytona 500 weekend, in memory of member Chuck Washington.
“This started with one of our members, he was really into racing. Every year he used to have a party for the Daytona 500. He passed away from cancer,” Rich Russo, KoC member who, with Louis McGraw, organized this year’s fundraiser. “His brother just had the guys come up to the club, they had a little party, we raised funds for the family. That’s what we do, raise funds for good causes. We just try to get better and better every year. It’s in memory of Chuck.”
“It’s the same weekend as the Daytona 500, that’s why it’s called ‘Race.’ We’re old men, we don’t run,” McGraw said.
Last year, the Race raised $16,000 for another local family. Over the past 14 years, the Race has raised more than $79,000.
McGraw said word-of-mouth and some solicitations to local businesses help garner interest. Donations pour in from all over.
Unfortunately, Mia will not be able to attend the fundraiser, her mother said. She has restrictions during this cold and flu season.
“It’s amazing. The amount of people who show support for us over the past two years, we’re just so appreciative. We just want to pay it forward,” Teresa said. Mia was vying for her mother’s attention while Teresa was on the phone speaking with this reporter. “We just feel so appreciative and fortunate, there’s so many people who want to help. And it brings a lot of awareness to childhood cancer.”
She continued: “We knew it existed, but we had no idea to the extent of what impact it has on family lives until we were affected ourselves.”
Doors open at 11 a.m. on February 26 at the Knights of Columbus Council 6201, 401 Bartley Road in Jackson. The race will be on seven flat screen TVs. There will be gift auctions, food and beverages, a cash bar, door prizes, children’s games and free T-shirts for the first 150 paying adults.
The cost is $12 for adults, $6 for children ages 12 to 18, and free admission for children 11 and younger.