Raelyn Cutbirth: Smile Enthusiast and Cancer Battler
Raelyn Cutbirth is an expert at smiles. She’s also a dog lover, queso thief, precious little girl… and cancer battler. On July 19th, 2012, just after her second birthday, she became a patient at Texas Children’s Hospital—which accepted her without health insurance.
“Raelyn was diagnosed with very rare type of cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma just after turning two,” says her mother, Jenni Cutbirth. She noticed that something was wrong with one side of Raelyn’s mouth, which was swelling at an alarming rate. Concerned, Jenni took her toddler to the doctor, never expecting to receive shocking and utterly devastating news.
A Cancer Diagnosis
The family was in between health insurance coverage when doctors determined that a tumor was growing rapidly in Raelyn’s jaw. Worse, it could not be surgically removed. This left doctors few options, especially with a child this young. Generally, children under five are not ideal chemotherapy candidates, yet her doctors devised a treatment plan. Raelyn would undergo 28 days of radiation and 11 months of 4 different chemotherapies.
She came through her first day of chemo with flying colors, although she was a bit queasy. “Anytime someone walked into her room, she would smile and say, “Hi Doctor!” During the long months that followed, Raelyn’s parents, Jenni and David, missed an extraordinary amount of work to care for her. They pushed her in a scooter throughout the hospital corridors and played dolls to pass the time. Sometimes Jenni napped with Raelyn in their hospital room—exhausted from the stress of long days spent in treatment and astronomical financial drain.
Prayer and Support
Strong support flowed from family, friends and the community, who prayed that Raelynn would fully recover. But it was Raelyn, herself, who kept their spirits up. “It’s amazing that Raelyn remained happy and vibrant throughout her cancer treatments, even on trying days,” says her mother. Over the last year Raelyn has had some difficult weeks with low counts, which kept her port from being accessed for chemotherapy. And when chemo could be administered, it caused nausea and vomiting. Raelyn suffered from a few terrible bouts of diaper rash.
Special surprises helped. Raelyn was able to visit Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and ride the bus, which was exciting. Willowbrook Build a Bear gave Raelyn a “chick” to stuff, dress and accompany her to TCH during hospital procedures. Barker Lake Community held a “Lemonade Stand to help Save Raelyn” and raised $1,000. Sometimes presents were waiting when she returned home from treatments, such as a Hello Kitty blanket and doll delivered by Donna Jantzen of The Kyrie Foundation.
These and many additional kindnesses bolstered the family’s spirits. The Jersey Village High School Pals made a beautiful video about Raelyn and her fight against cancer, posted on the Facebook page for Relay for Life of Cy-Fair. Just recently the family’s car was had mechanical issues, and Northwest Chrysler Jeep Dodge donated a vehicle to ensure Raelyn stayed safe and cool while on the road to her appointments.
Raelyn has truly been an inspiration and has shown us all how to smile through our challenges. “Take that, cancer!” says Jenni. Thankfully, Raelyn’s last chemo treatment was June 5, although she still must make many trips to the hospital for ongoing treatment and is not “out of the woods” yet. Thankfully, she is now able to enjoy the company of other children (and her cat, Fluffy) and has restarted a ballet class a Cypress Elite Dance. The hair she lost has begun to grow again, and as a special treat she had it dyed pink. She loves anything outdoors, especially because her weak immune system had previously kept her house-or-hospital-bound.
Fundraisers and Community Involvement
“It’s the little things in life that matter so much,” says Jenni, who has learned to live in the moment. In the midst of their crisis she finds time to “shout out” on Facebook the plights and causes of other young patients. She is always willing to support cancer-related causes.
The community has stepped up to help Raelyn with fundraisers. She was chosen as the Miracle Child for the 2013 Ace Hardware Grill Off to be held October 19. ”100% of the proceeds will go to our local Children’s Miracle Network, which is Texas Children’s Hospital,” says Jenni. Everyone is invited to join Raelyn for BBQ at Cypress Ace Hardware and Feed at 11655 Jones Road, Houston. Donations can be made at any time at the store location.
Save Raelyn Benefit
Katy Christian Magazine is co-hosting the Save Raelyn Benefit set for November 9 from 2 -6 p.m. at the Smart Drinks location in Katy (23144 Cinco Ranch Blvd.). Volunteers will collect character Band-aids to donate to Texas Children’s Hospital, because Raelyn and other pediatric patients love to pick out Band-aids after treatment. If someone is not able to make it to the event, they can drop off character band aides in advance at any Smart Drinks location. Smart Drinks locations are also hosting an ongoing fundraiser with 10% of the proceeds from all Bluebonnet Nutrition sales helping Raelyn with expenses at these location: Katy, as well as 12343 Barker Cypress Rd #250 in Cypress, and 16000 Stuebner Airline Rd. in Spring.
Raelyn’s Medical Trust
Please consider donating to the Save Raelyn Medical Trust through Chase. The donation account number is 411654945. Anyone is welcome to message Jenni through Raelyn’s page to ask questions, offer support or donate. “We have set up a support group, I would be happy to add any parents or caregivers of a child affected with cancer to our group,” says Jenni.