Journey for a cure

Dec 16, 2012

The story of one girl’s struggle against cancer, and the Kiwanians who stepped up to try and save her. 

Editor’s note: On December 22, we learned Rashale had tragically passed away. At press time, we decided there were so many reasons to move ahead and share her story with you: Because she was a courageous young girl. Because she touched so many people with her smile. Because so many caring individuals, including an inspiring group of Kiwanians who lived the Kiwanis mission by their actions, stepped up to help her because they could. Because countless people—filled with love and compassion—came together and changed her life, however briefly. And because we feel she is meant to touch even more lives.

When Rashale Arana walked in the room, she clutched a doll with blonde hair and a little pink-and-yellow purse. Almost 9 years old, she wore a new purple outfit, a pink hat with ribbons, and a delicate heart on a gold chain. She stood in the center of a group of girls her age, and they all were giggling and chatting, as little girls do. Everyone but Rashale. She was very quiet. A bit shy, perhaps. Like she wasn’t sure she wanted to be there—at the center of attention.

But she was. And for her to be standing there at all was the first of many miracles. A bit of shiny hope in what for her has been a darkening and frightening world. Only two months earlier, Rashale could barely stand at all. Her left leg was aching and swollen to the point she could barely bend her knee. She needed help—and fast. Problem was, she had nowhere to turn.

Rashale is from Silk Grass, Belize.

She has osteosarcoma—a rare childhood bone cancer.

In Belize, cancer can be a death sentence. Doctors there—if you can even get in to see one—send some cancer patients home with a “painkiller,” much like Tylenol, to die. There’s not much else they can do. The country’s medical options are lacking because funds, resources and technology are lacking. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of cancer cases in Belize is increasing, but many cases go undiagnosed. In a country the size of Belize, WHO estimates the average number of new cancer cases diagnosed each year should be about 143 for every 100,000 people. The Belize Health System identifies only about 40 cases each year—usually when the cancer has progressed to the worst stages.

But Rashale happened to be at the right place at the right time. She’s getting a second chance—a second chance to live a long and happy life. To be a kid. To laugh and to grow up and be whatever she wants to be.

She’s one of the lucky ones.

Thinking pink
Standing inside the lobby of the Presbyterian Blume Pediatric Hematology & Oncology Clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she’ll receive her checkups and some of her chemotherapy treatments, Rashale’s wide eyes glance around the room. This place looks nothing like the doctors’ offices back home. It’s clean. It’s shiny. It’s new.

Everyone wants to talk to her about how she’s doing and how she feels and what she has planned for the day. Clinic staff ask her about the doll and how things are going at Hospitality House, where she’s staying during her time in Charlotte.

Visitors greet Rashale with “It’s so great to meet you” and “I love your hat.” She breaks out in what is quickly becoming her trademark smile and says “thank you” as she strokes the shiny, black hair flowing from under her pink hat. It’s not her real hair—hers is gone. First thing to go after chemo. “I love the hats with hair,” she says. “So many nice ladies made them for me.” She thanks “Miss Sarai” at Presbyterian for making her favorite pink one.

It doesn’t take long for Rashale to come out of her shell. After a quick tour of the new facility, she’s climbing up on the chemo treatment chairs. She’s laughing. She’s talking—quietly—with visitors and staff. But on the inside, she’s scared. She has to be. She’s far from home and surrounded by strangers. She misses her brother. She misses her friends. She’s living out a nightmare in a new, unfamiliar place. It probably doesn’t get much scarier than this.

But she’s smiling.

Rashale knows that in Charlotte she’s surrounded by her new family. Doctors meet with her on a consistent basis to guide her through her care. Child Life specialists explain everything that’s happening so she won’t be too scared. She’s been given every scenario and the corresponding action. She knows why she’s here: to get better—to get rid of the tumor growing in her leg.

But right now all she wants is some ice cream—preferably pink.

It’s that type of attitude and her heartwarming smile that have staff from the top down at Presbyterian following her every move. And there are plenty more people interested in Rashale’s story. After all, Kiwanians played a huge part in getting Rashale help in the first place.

Kiwanis connection
Members of the Kiwanis Club of Mecklenburg, in Charlotte, North Carolina, have been working on a project—the Kiwanis Pediatric Cancer Fund—for a couple years now, and bringing Rashale to the United States from Belize is the first piece of the puzzle. The Carolinas District—which has signed on as well—feels strongly that more attention needs to be paid to children who have absolutely no chance of surviving life-threatening illnesses simply because they have no access to help. The short-term mission is to get these kids to doctors who can help. The long-term goal is to get doctors trained in areas that lack sufficient care so the kids can get help they need right in their own backyards. And the plan is for the district’s Kiwanis Pediatric Cancer Fund to help make that happen.

Rashale’s case is exactly what the club was looking for to kick off the project. When leg cramps kept her awake at night, her first line of defense was at a small concrete building in the middle of a field near her home. The Silk Grass Health Post, as it’s called, has a doctor in-house one day a week for three hours. That’s it. Most people can’t imagine that. But for far too many people in this world, many of them children, that’s the reality.

Rashale’s next option was to meet with doctors at a private hospital in Belize City— a long bus ride of more than 150 miles. For anyone who’s not feeling well, the trip can be brutal. Once at the hospital in the city, it’s not much better. Even inside, the heat can be unbearable. The only room in the entire building with air conditioning is the one operating room, and even that isn’t as cool as it needs to be. Medicines that need refrigeration sit out in the extreme heat. It was here that Rashale got the cancer diagnosis—and they couldn’t do anything for her.

Then, by pure luck, Mecklenburg Kiwanians found her. The group was working with the International Hospital for Children (IHC)—a nonprofit organization that links worldwide pediatric surgical, diagnostic and preventative resources to heal critically ill children in developing countries—to find a child in need of their help.

“Cancer is the second most common cause of childhood deaths,” says Mark Mogul, medical director at the Presbyterian Blume Pediatric Hematology & Oncology Clinic in Charlotte. Mogul is one of Rashale’s doctors, but he’s more than that; he’s also a member of the Mecklenburg Kiwanis Club. Mogul was a key player in establishing a relationship with the IHC—a partnership that probably saved Rashale’s life. “They (IHC) arrange to get kids here,” he says, “and we take over from there.”

And, as if getting her here for medical treatment weren’t enough, there’s more. Rashale’s family will never pay a dime for any of her care. Thanks to a lot of fundraising and several incredible favors, Mecklenburg and Carolinas District Kiwanians have made sure Rashale will never be billed for any of the treatments or surgeries she receives.

But the Kiwanis role in Rashale’s story doesn’t end there. Mogul and Mecklenburg Kiwanis member Sam McMahon Jr. traveled to Belize to speak with doctors about cancer treatment and to learn more about how Kiwanis could help.

“The Belize doctors are so dedicated,” Mogul says. “It breaks their hearts to make a cancer diagnosis. There are no oncologists. There are no narcotics for children. The only option these patients have is to get on a bus and drive 18 hours to Mexico to get care.”

While Mogul talked with doctors and the CEO of the Ministry of Health for Belize, McMahon met with Rashale’s family, teachers and friends. Everyone asked the same question: “When will she come home?”

“Here’s Rashale—let’s say she comes to us and we cure her,” McMahon says. “Then she goes back to Belize. Goes to school. She could go anywhere. She might be a doctor after all this. You never know. One can make a big difference. She could go home and change Belize.

“Maybe we can’t bring an end to cancer, but we can bring an end to childhood suffering because of it,” he says. And he believes it with all his heart.

Changing perceptions
Mogul pounds on his steering wheel as he tells Rashale’s story. He’s using terms not widely associated with the disease. Words like “cure” and “beating it.” He’s passionate about spreading the message that cancer can be beat.

“This is not incurable,” he says. “This is 100 percent incurable without state-of-the-art therapy. But we have state-of-the-art therapy. Her chances for a cure are excellent.

“With state-of-the-art therapy, some cancers are 100 percent curable. All told, we cure about 80 percent. These are kids who would’ve all died.”

Rashale’s treatment plan is very aggressive: 10 weeks of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, followed by surgery to remove it. Then 20 more weeks of chemo to kill any residual cancer. Mogul explains the chemo is necessary to kill any cancer in the body—it’s not as simple as removing the tumor and being done with it. The worst news is evident fairly quickly to Mogul and Christine Bolen, another of Rashale’s doctors.

She’s going to lose the leg.

Save this leg
Mogul dropped the bomb this past September that Rashale would indeed lose her leg. Osteosarcoma is an aggressive cancer, so time is a huge factor in treatment. She probably would have already died had they not begun treatment when they did, he says, but the opposite scenario is just as mind-blowing: Had they caught the cancer sooner, they probably could’ve saved the leg.

Rashale understood her treatment plan and faced her future with strength and courage.

“I’d rather be Rashale with one leg than no Rashale with two,” she told Mogul.

Plans were in motion for Rashale to have her tumor—and the entire left leg from the thigh down— removed on October 3. As she was lying in her bed that morning, being prepped for surgery, she finally lost it. Rashale was crying and frightened. The wide, intoxicating smile was nowhere to be seen. Her aunt, who was about to head back to Belize that same day, whispered in her ear, “Rashale, I don’t think you should have the surgery,” before running out of the room. It was an emotional day, to say the least.

Rashale drew in big letters on her leg: “Save this leg.” She wanted to make sure the surgeons didn’t take the wrong one.

Meanwhile, in a car somewhere on the highway between Winston-Salem and Charlotte, a doctor from Wake Forest was on his way to Presbyterian to perform the amputation. He, like all the other amazing doctors at Presbyterian, had offered to do the surgery at no cost. But as he drove in his car that day, his mind going a million miles a minute, he decided he couldn’t do it.

“While he was driving for two hours for surgery, he said, ‘I’ve been thinking about this,’” says Mogul. “’If this were an American child, I wouldn’t be doing this amputation. There’s a better option.’”

The option: rotationplasty, a cutting-edge procedure where a surgical specialist removes the tumor and the affected area surrounding it, then reattaches the leg backwards at the thigh, allowing the ankle joint to take the place of the knee joint. The results are a bit jarring to look at, but allow patients to have full use of their leg with aid of a prosthesis. Mogul says the doctor, William Ward, called him a little before 6 p.m. with the rotationplasty idea. Then he called in some favors.

“There’s a surgeon at Duke who will do this for free,” Ward said. “And the prosthetics will be free.”

Mogul and the rest of the Presbyterian team were floored. Rashale and her mom were simply ecstatic. Rashale’s smile was back. Her written plea had worked. They were going to save her leg. She was just surprised they were saving both.

Doctors and staff gathered with Rashale and her mom to talk about the rotationplasty procedure. Together, they watched a video showing a patient who had had the procedure—and that patient was able to run and play. It’s exactly what Rashale wanted.

No tears
Rashale stands on the public dock at Lake Wylie in South Carolina. Jennifer Wittmer and her husband, Larry, brought Rashale and her mom, RebaMae Arana, here for a day of fun before surgery. Wittmer, also a Mecklenburg Kiwanian, is one of the countless people who have become absolutely smitten with Rashale.

“She was laughing and so happy,” Wittmer says. “She had never been fishing. My husband showed her how to bait a worm. She was all squirmy, just like any other little girl.”

Rashale caught three fish. That night, she also stayed in a hotel for the first time and made a trip down to the hotel pool.

“This is just the best, most fun day!” she declared.

The next morning, surgery day, Rashale was her cheery self.

“I asked her to be my wake-up call this morning, so she called promptly at 6:20 a.m. and greeted me in her typical smiling voice,” says Megan Talley, public relations and marketing specialist at Presbyterian Healthcare. “She said she was already at the hospital. I asked if she was feeling brave, and she gave me a very determined ‘Uh-huh!’ I also asked her if she was going to do her own surgery, and she laughed her little girl laugh and said, ‘No!’”

At about 9:30 a.m. on October 13, Reba called with an update. Surgery started at around 9 a.m. and would probably last about seven or eight hours. Rashale did not cry once. She was all smiles, and when they gave her the medicine to calm her down, she was giggling. The nurses had never seen a child so happy when going into surgery.

Ice chips
Rashale’s surgery at Duke Medical Center lasted about six hours. Dr. Brian Brigman performed the rotationplasty and was pleased with the outcome.

“A rotationplasty turns what would otherwise be an above-the-knee amputation into a much more functional below-knee amputation,” explains Brigman. “In Rashale’s case, she would have otherwise had an amputation through the hip, with little chance of wearing a prosthesis or walking without crutches or a walker.”

Rashale was a trooper throughout the entire procedure, amazing everyone at her strength. Brigman removed the tumor and said final pathology reports would reveal whether the entire tumor had been resected, and how much of the tumor was dead—dictating her postoperative chemotherapy schedule. She was ready to move out of intensive care and to a regular room in less than 24 hours.

She was ready, too, for a change in her diet. When Wittmer spoke to Rashale after her surgery, she was tickled by her sense of humor.

“She told me she was hungry,” Wittmer says. “She said, ‘I have to eat ice chips.’”

Rashale was bummed.

“She just wanted her beans and rice,” Wittmer says, laughing.

Amazingly, four days later, Rashale was ready to head back to Presbyterian to continue her treatment. Wittmer drove Reba and Rashale back to Charlotte. Rashale nodded off in the car while the women talked about all that had just happened. After a while, Rashale woke up. And she was hungry.

“We asked what she wanted, and of course, she said beans and rice,” says Wittmer. But there were no restaurants around that served Rashale’s favorite dish. She’d have to settle for her second-favorite, Chick-Fil-A. She inhaled every bite of her meal, sat back and wished out loud: “I wish I could take back (to Belize) a Chick-Fil-A tree so I could have it whenever I wanted.”

Big dreams for such a little girl.

That was October 17.

On October 22, Rashale’s final pathology report came back.

The tumor was 96 percent dead. It seemed she was on her way to a cure.

Editor’s note: KIWANIS magazine’s Journey for a Cure series was supposed to follow a young girl, Rashale Arana, through her courageous battle against cancer. We planned to share an uplifting story about how Kiwanis members in North Carolina joined together to give her hope, welcome her to the United States from her native Belize with open arms and help her in her battle against the odds. 

Tragically, the odds won.

On December 22, 9-year-old Rashale died unexpectedly after a few months of treatment. She was brave every step of the way, with an incredible smile on her face.We are deeply saddened by the tragic turn of events. Rashale touched the lives of countless people—both Kiwanians and non-Kiwanians—and her story is not finished.

Kiwanis members in North Carolina have set the bar high for other Kiwanians to follow. Their loving, compassionate, caring hearts changed Rashale’s life in ways most of us will never know. One of those people took her in his hands—literally—with his amazing medical care and fatherly touch. Others touched her by carrying her when she needed to be carried, hugging her when she needed to be hugged and giggling with her when she told silly stories. It is these stories that move us forward, that make us want to continue sharing Rashale’s story.

We believe it’s still an uplifting story. We hope you will, too.

With that, here’s the next chapter of her journey.

A life changed
The plastic tubes dangling from underneath Rashale Arana’s white Hannah Montana T-shirt didn’t seem to bother her. She’d gotten used to them. For about 11 weeks, they had been her lifeline—the port for doctors to give her life-saving chemotherapy treatments for her osteosarcoma.

“The plastic tubes were the catheters of her central line … her Hickman catheter,” says Dr. Christine Bolen, one of Rashale’s doctors at Presbyterian Blume Pediatric Hematology & Oncology Clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina. “The Hickman allowed for blood draws and infusion of chemo without needing to poke Rashale.”

And that was good news for Rashale. She’d already been through a lot.

Rashale’s life-changing and rare surgery, called a rotationplasty, took place October 17 at Duke University Medical Center. Her left leg was amputated at mid-thigh, the affected knee area was removed and the leg was reattached—backwards—so her ankle joint could take the place of her knee joint. After a few short days of recovery, she headed back to Charlotte—and to about 20 weeks or so of continued chemotherapy.

But cancer and chemo treatments weren’t all she had to endure those few months. Rashale was from Silk Grass, Belize, and she was in the United States for care thanks to Kiwanians in the Carolinas District, the Kiwanis Club of Mecklenburg, in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the International Hospital for Children. So the 9-year-old was not only dealing with cancer, she was in country she wasn’t familiar with, surrounded by people she didn’t know. She couldn’t bathe without worrying about getting the port in her chest wet. She had to have the port and catheter lines flushed out about three times a week, and the dressing cleaned once a week with alcohol—which burned. When she was in the hospital for chemo treatments about three days every week, she, along with whichever family member was acting as her guardian at the time, had to pack up all their belongings from their room at the Hospitality House of Charlotte and put them into a storage room at the home until they returned from the hospital. It was a lot of packing and unpacking. But other guests might have needed their room while they were gone.

Of course, Rashale never complained. She simply looked forward to her birthday on November 11, and she kept her social calendar busy with parties and visitors. In fact, only a short time after her surgery, Rashale was off to California, where she visited with her mother, devoured “yummy shrimp” at Bubba Gump’s in Long Beach, and smashed a piñata at a Hannah Montana-themed birthday party.

Once back in Charlotte, it was time for additional rounds of chemo. And she still had more to look forward to. Christmas was coming soon. But before that, she was to get a very special gift. On December 3, she was off to Savannah, Georgia, to get a new leg.

“I’m so, so excited,” she said, grinning, of course.

Hands-on care
Steve Miller, certified prosthetist/orthotist and area practice manager of Hanger Prosthetics in Savannah, Georgia, rubbed his hand up and down the wet, dripping piece attached to the metal clamp. It was Rashale’s new leg, or at least what would become a piece of her new leg. Miller prides himself and his team for creating new legs and arms—works of art, really—because they’re made the old-fashioned way. By hand.

Things were going a bit better than earlier in the morning. Rashale had cried—sobbed, actually—when Miller tried to take measurements of her leg. She was scared. She later said she didn’t like him touching her leg. She was embarrassed. She was overwhelmed and upset. Miller’s shirt was soaked with Rashale’s tears by the end of the fitting, but he got what he needed to start.

“What would take others two weeks, we can do in a day,” Miller said as he rubbed, pinched and tweaked the new leg into shape. “I can put my thumb here,” he explained as he squeezed the area near the ankle, “on a computer screen, you can’t touch and feel. There are so many bones in the foot to get just right.”

Miller got the call from a friend, Dr. Brian Brigman, only a few weeks earlier, when it was decided Brigman would perform Rashale’s rotationplasty. Brigman knew she’d need a great prosthetic leg, one that would grow with her and last. And he knew Miller was just the person to turn to.

“I had my surgery in Florida,” Miller said of the rotationplasty he had as a young boy after battling the same cancer in the same leg as Rashale. “The surgeon in my case said, ‘You’ll need an amputation. It’s worse than we thought.’ Then, I woke up the next day with my leg on backwards.

“I’ve seen a lot of these surgeries,” he continued. “Hers looks great. This leg will be uncomfortable for a while, but as she starts walking, it will desensitize. It’s all confusing at first. I used to get an itch in the back of my leg and have to scratch the front.”

By lunchtime, Miller had formed what was shaping up to be a nice little leg for Rashale, including a plastic piece with her favorite decoration—pink and purple butterflies—to fit around her thigh.

“The theme of the day is pink,” Miller joked.

Seeing the sights
Rashale and her cousin, Cristal Gentle, finished with what turned out to be an almost four-hour nap. The drive to Savannah took a lot out of both of them, they later admitted. Now it was time for some dinner and girl talk.

Rashale peered out the car window at all the huge Savannah homes, some already decked out in Christmas lights. “I love the lights!” she exclaimed about every other block. By the time she saw the riverfront, she was in total amazement.

She pointed out lights on the boats, a huge bridge and lots of shops. Dinner was a hit, as well. She stuffed herself with sourdough bread (“I love this bread!”) and two types of shrimp: steamed and fried. She was grinning ear-to-ear as she carefully chose a pound of candy at one of the local sweet shops. While leaving downtown, a near-glimpse of Santa had her railing. She missed him. By the time she got back to the Ronald McDonald House of Savannah, she was almost asleep. Which was good. She’d need her energy. She was going to walk the next morning.

Just a little bit more
When Rashale walked into Hanger the next morning, she saw her leg for the first time. She smiled a bit, but then looked down at the floor a lot. She was feeling a bit shy and nervous.

Miller wheeled up in front of her as he readied her to try it on the first time. Everyone in the room took a nervous breath. As Rashale wiggled into her leg for the first time, she let out a few grimaces and squeaks. It wasn’t long before she had settled her foot inside the newly formed leg.

“It feels weird,” Rashale said, noting it was a bit too tight. Miller assured her this part was all about getting the right fit, and there wouldn’t be any walking just yet. He said he had to adjust it “just a little bit more” so it would fit the length and width of her thigh. Then, he pulled it off and walked out the door.

“Just a little bit more,” Rashale said, giggling.

She was in a much better mood.

Minutes later, Miller was at it again. And again, he looked up to her and said, “Just a little bit more” and walked out of the room.

Again, she repeated him and giggled.

This went on three or four more times before she was ready to strut her stuff. And by this point, it was like a movie star had walked into the room. A reporter and cameraman from WTOC-TV in Savannah had come to film and interview Rashale during her first steps on her new leg.

A reporter and photographer from the Charlotte Observer made the trip as well. Everyone wanted to share her story and capture her words and emotions when she tried out her leg for the first time.

Rashale was nervous, and with all the members of the media in the room, no one could blame her. Here she was, learning to walk on a new leg, and she was surrounded by cameras, notepads and voice recorders.

No pressure at all.

“Take a step forward. Put your weight on it. Is it pinching there?” Miller asked, as Rashale grimaced and cried out a little in pain.

She nodded. “It feels kinda heavy,” she said.

“Right now, we’re just getting the height right,” Miller said. “Tomorrow, we hope you can do a dance.”

On her two feet
Later that night, on the way to dinner, Rashale called her mom and everyone she could think of back in Charlotte.

“Guess what?” she told them. “I walked on my two feet today!”

Before arriving at the restaurant for dinner, Rashale got the chance to meet a very special person, who by chance was again standing on the sidewalk in downtown Savannah.

“And what’s your name?” Santa asked, as he poked his head into the window of the car.

“Rashale,” she answered, her eyes wide in amazement.

“What do you want for Christmas?” he asked.

“A laptop,” Rashale answered, without hesitation.

With a hearty “Ho, ho, ho,” Santa winked and answered, “I’ll see what I can do.”

The next morning, perched inside parallel bars, Miller told Rashale to hold on and kick him. “Perfect. That’s how you want to take a step,” he said. And she did. Over and over again. She walked, while holding on to the bars. She wasn’t doing much smiling at this point. She was too busy. Too determined. Like a fighter.

“Is that bothering you?” Miller said, sticking his finger inside the plastic where it seemed to be pinching. Rashale shook her head. “That wasn’t bothering you? That would bother me. She’s tough,” he said, looking at everyone in the room.

Rashale grinned.

In two very short days, Rashale had been measured, fitted for and walked on a new leg. In a room jammed with as many eager people as could fit, Rashale conquered her fear (again) and walked. Without any help. No bars. No walker. Just Rashale on her two feet.

From the adults in the room—reporters, Hanger Prosthetics staff members, photographers—there was a lot of laughter, smiles and absolute joy. There were even a few tears.

Everyone knew it was always the plan to give Rashale the chance to walk out of the hospital at the end of her treatment on her own two feet. She was well on her way to doing just that.

Final days
On December 7, Rashale was back in Charlotte at Presbyterian Hospital, set to have yet another round of chemotherapy. But her social calendar remained packed. She was excited to meet a young man, Ty, who had also had a rotationplasty. They had a lot to chat about. She couldn’t believe the mayor of Charlotte stopped by to meet her as well. She spent a lot of time laughing, visiting with friends, working out in physical therapy, chatting with friends on the phone and answering emails.

The worst part seemed over. She had chemo. She had surgery. She got a new leg. She learned to walk. Now all she had left was about 17 weeks of chemotherapy before it was time to head home to Belize.

Rashale had been getting a couple different types of chemo and both required staying a few days in the hospital. One of the treatments required 4872 hours spent “flushing out” the toxic chemicals from her body and giving a rescue medication. But surprisingly, it wasn’t this chemo she hated most.

Rashale also received a combination of Cisplatin and Adriamycin, which “makes you sick as all get out,” said Mecklenburg Kiwanian Mark Mogul, director of the Presbyterian Blume Hematology & Oncology Clinic. This is the one Rashale really hated. She called it “the worst chemo ever.”

“I’ve had it before,” she said on December 14. “It makes me feel upset in my stomach. It makes my mouth sore. But they’ll give me medicine to make it not bad.”

On December 21, all seemed to be going well during her round of the “worst chemo ever.” But that night, Rashale complained of a terrible headache. Nurses gave her medicine to help ease the pain. Shortly after, a nurse checked on Rashale and was unable to awaken her.

Doctors performed countless tests and tried everything they could to save her, but their efforts failed.

On December 22, Rashale passed away.

A smile for Rashale
It seems so obvious to say Rashale’s death stunned everyone around her. She had been doing so well with every curveball thrown her way. Travel to an unfamiliar country. Chemo. Surgery. A new leg. Learning to walk.

Those who had gotten close to her—Kiwanians and non-Kiwanians—had trouble coming to terms with why such an amazing life was cut so short.

“This is absolutely devastating,” Mogul said. “My heart is just broken. Rashale would have died months ago, a horrible, painful death in Belize, but instead she lived life to the fullest here in the States until she passed—but only after impacting literally hundreds of people in this community and beyond.”

Rashale’s journey ended sooner than expected. But Kiwanians in the Carolinas District feel confident her story—and the Kiwanis Pediatric Cancer Fund that helped her along the way—will continue to change countless lives.

“She has left us much too quickly,” says Mecklenburg Kiwanian Matt Hagler, “but I hope we can honor her by creating a fund in her name to help other children with cancer. Her loss is a reminder of how serious cancer is to children and how important it is to find it and treat it quickly.”

Jennifer Wittmer, a Mecklenburg Kiwanian and very close friend to Rashale, found it hard to deal with her death, but found the words to express what her life meant to her and countless others.

“I think she truly changed the mindset of so many people,” Wittmer said. “God’s plan was for us to share her for five months and change our lives. I believe that is what we’re all supposed to do on this Earth. To do whatever we can to help others, make others smile, reach out when you normally wouldn’t, cherish your children and your family, pay it forward when we have the opportunity.”

Which is exactly what Kiwanis is all about.

Story and photos by Kasey Jackson
Stories produced by KIWANIS Magazine

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