Emily MacGillivray treated her house like an obstacle course. The toddler, a tornado of energy, could be found after a scamper sitting on counter tops.
“We never had a kid who constantly was climbing on things,” said Mountain MacGillivray, her father and the coach of La Salle's women’s basketball team.
Around Thanksgiving, Emily looked pale and her energy sagged. The family was only mildly concerned about the 2-year-old girl; Grace MacGillivray wrote on her blog she told her husband he didn’t even need to come to the emergency room for routine tests.
“Once we got to the ER, never did cancer enter my mind,” she wrote. “Our pediatrician had told me to pack a toothbrush and a change of clothes, pretty certain that we’d have to stay the night. I did, but thought for sure we’d be home the next day, maybe with some antibiotics but probably with just a prescription for an iron supplement.”
At first, doctors thought Emily might have serious liver issues, until bloodwork revealed she had leukemia. Emily was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-growing — and the most common — type of childhood cancer.
“We were pretty scared and alarmed,” Mountain said. “The hours before we got the diagnosis, that was just the worst part, not knowing what you’re going to hear.”
MacGillivray graduated from Temple, coached Philly high schools and led Quinnipiac to the NCAA Tournament before he was hired at La Salle in April 2018. He might coach his most worthwhile game Sunday when the Explorers dedicate the game to Emily — now in remission — in a “Climb with Emily” day to raise awareness for pediatric cancer.
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The MacGillivrays, who celebrate their 20-year wedding anniversary this year, have eight children, ages 19 to 2 years old.
The youngest, Emily.
The photos that dot MacGillivray’s Twitter feed show his daughter smiling while she holds an egg sandwich or about to fall asleep after eating an adult serving of mac and cheese. That Emily was in the hospital during those moments make the family grateful she can share in Sunday’s game.
The MacGillivrays learned this week that Emily was in remission, making Sunday’s event more of a reason for celebration than consternation.
“Since being off chemo since Saturday, Emily has really shown an improvement in her general well-being,” Grace wrote on her blog. “She’s keeping up more with the kids, she’s laughing, smiling, and talking a lot more, and eating more like a toddler!”
Mountain MacGillivray said his daughter needs about eight more months of chemotherapy and then, “our hope for her is that she won’t even know she has leukemia by the time she’s 10.” Emily came home Dec. 29from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and MacGillivray laughed when he noted she has become a champ at taking her medicine.
“The one thing about 2 year olds, and it’s a lesson for all of us, is they tend to live in the moment. They don’t really worry about the future,” Mountain said.
MacGillivray’s Twitter bio notes he’s a “follower of Christ” and said the ordeal only strengthened his faith because of the outpouring of support from friends, family and strangers who prayed for them, cooked meals and donated money. La Salle and MacGillivray are trying to raise money Sunday for the B+ Foundation — which honors the life of Andrew McDonough, who died at 14 from cancer — in its mission for the fight against childhood cancer. La Salle will show videos from select players talking about how cancer has affected their lives.
La Salle will wear special T-shirts for Emily and photos of her will be on display during the matchup with Richmond.
“Yes, this could be really bad for Emily down the road,” Mountain said. “Anything can go wrong. But right now, Emily is as happy as a clam. I’m not going to worry about what could go wrong because I get to see her smiling and laughing every day.”