By Melanie Patterson
North Jefferson News
GARDENDALE — A local cancer-fighting group is honoring a tiny — and feisty — cancer survivor.
The North Jefferson Relay For Life, an American Cancer Society fund-raiser, is May 17 at the Gardendale Civic Center. The Relay committee chooses an honorary chairperson each year, and for 2014 she is Mary Elizabeth Olvey of Hayden.
Mary Elizabeth is 5; she was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 3.
Her ordeal began on March 9, 2013, when her mother, Amy Olvey, took her to the doctor for a high fever.
The pediatrician sent the family straight to the Children’s Hospital emergency room, without telling them the reason.
After more tests, the staff told the Olvey family that their little girl’s blood labs were positive for leukemia.
“We were devastated,” Olvey said. “We didn’t know how we would handle all of this. But God has provided. Everything works out for the good.”
Not that it has been an smooth road. “To say it’s been easy would be lying,” said Olvey. “It’s been a journey.”
It was hard to explain to a 3-year-old why she was so sick. And then there was the big change.
“The hardest part for her was losing her hair,” Olvey said. “When it first started coming out, she would stand in front of the mirror and look at her self with such a sad look on her face.” Olvey said her daughter always wanted to be Rapunzel.
So the family made an event of the hair loss. They had family and friends — and their hair-dresser — over and threw a head-shaving party.
Olvey breathed a sigh of relief at Mary Elizabeth’s reaction.
“She looked at her head in the mirror and started giggling,” Olvey said.
During the next few months, Mary Elizabeth got through the sickness of cancer and chemotherapy with her favorite past-time: dancing.
After she was diagnosed, she had a dance recital a few days later.
“She was determined to go to her recital,” Olvey said. And she did.
“Dancing is one of the things that got her through all this,” Olvey said. “A lot of kids, and adults, want to sit around and feel sorry for themselves. She went through a few spells of being real sick, but she never stopped dancing.”
Mary Elizabeth also cheers and plays baseball.
Now, more than a year after being diagnosed with leukemia, Mary Elizabeth is in remission, although she still has more than a year of chemotherapy treatments left. Her hair is growing back, and the family is excited about taking part in Relay For Life. Mary Elizabeth has three brothers, ages 19, 15 and 12. Her father is Michael Olvey.
She will lead the Survivors’ Lap at Relay For Life, wearing a cape. This year’s theme is Super Heroes.
“She is a very strong little girl,” Olvey said. “She’s my hero.”
Also at Relay, Mary Elizabeth will dance a duet with Olvey’s niece, Taylor Grace Eustice, and with another well-known young cancer survivor’s group: Alex Swader’s Dancers Fighting Cancer.
Relay For Life Chairperson Amanda Lovett encourages all cancer survivors to attend Relay For Life, which will honor survivors with a meal and other events.
This year’s North Jefferson Relay For Life goal is to raise $65,000 for the American Cancer Society.
Relay will be at the Gardendale Civic Center May 17, noon to midnight, and will feature live entertainment and other activities. The closing act is the band Franklin Road.
For more information about Relay For Life or survivors’ events, call Lovett at (954) 254-2689.