"Overwhelming" is a phrase often used in association with cancer. One 11-year-old girl fighting ovarian cancer, rare for anyone under the age of 40, is showing her community how the word can be used in a positive light.
Paige LaRosa, of Warrington, Pennsylvania, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in early February, after initially being taken to the hospital with persistent abdominal pain.
"She took it better than we did, honestly," said Shane LaRosa, Paige's father. "We were caught off guard, overwhelmed. One minute you're there for abdominal pain, next thing you know, it's cancer."
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The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) initially operated to remove one ovary, but a full pathology left them no choice but to remove the other as well.
What makes Paige's diagnosis such an extraordinary case is that according to the CDC, over 90 percent of ovarian cancer patients are over 40 years of age. Every year, ovarian cancer hits about 20,000 women, but fewer than 1 in 100,000 women under 20 are diagnosed each year, making Paige's cancer overwhelmingly rare.
That being said, most ovarian cancer fighters don't have to worry about schoolwork.
"In general, the support from everyone has been overwhelming," LaRosa mentioned in regards to the school. "We had a meeting with teachers and the principal, and they insisted on doing whatever necessary, they 'didn't want school to be a worry for Paige'. The kids made cards, and one teacher even crocheted a poncho-like cover up."
Paige's two younger sisters have also picked up on the situation. According to their father, they know to help their sister out when she needs something, and they're also aware that sometimes she'll need her space.
Paige seems to understand exactly what is necessary in her fight. Recently, her hair started thinning as a result of chemotherapy, but the 6th-grader took it in stride and bravely asked her father to shave her head.
It's this positive outlook, this overwhelming willingness to take on the illness headstrong, that has inspired her entire community. LaRosa is a former member of the Warrington Fire Company, which sponsored a Shave-a-thon at their station on Tuesday to help raise funds for Paige and her family.
"[Shane's] wife Julie is a member of the auxiliary, so the family is still very much involved in the organization," said Mike Bean, Chief of the Warrington Fire Company. "We decided to take this task on ourselves and run with it."
Many fellow firefighters are joining Paige's side and participating in the Shave-a-thon, just further proof of a community rallying around a girl in need of support. A girl who, in a matter of days, went from playing sports and learning karate to competing against a different enemy.
Paige has finished one round of chemotherapy, and was brought to CHOP last Friday morning for the second round. She'll have four rounds in total, ideally spread out every 21 days. She also goes to the hospital for chemo follow-ups, blood tests and any other issue that may be minor to most people but could affect her ability to undergo chemo.
It's a lot for a family to go through alone. Thankfully, the LaRosas have not had that problem.
"As a family, we want to express our gratitude to everybody who's been involved in this process, to make it as big as it is, with prayers and everything else," LaRosa concluded. "It's been overwhelming in a positive way."
Shane cautioned all parents to "stick to their guts if their child has something wrong." He added that parents know their kids better than anyone else.
But with every sentence, the same word kept coming to his lips. Overwhelming. It doesn't always have to be a negative word. In the case of Paige LaRosa's valiant battle against ovarian cancer, and the community's willingness to help in any way possible, the word truly is a manifestation of hope, help and hospitality for all parties involved.