#Aaliyahstrong: the power of play and community

By Beth A. Birmingham | Jul 03, 2018
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham Aaliyah Carballo takes her first swing on a new playset after returning home from treatment in New York City for cancer. The family is hoping the two-year battle is on its way to the final step -- an "all clear" sign.

St. George — It is tough enough watching an adult fight for their life when it comes to health issues, but when a 5-year-old is going through it, it takes on a whole new meaning.

However, despite two years of various procedures to treat her Stage 4 neuroblastoma, Aaliyah Carballo's energy and sheer joy in life have never diminished. And that was apparent as she arrived home Tuesday, July 2, to a special surprise.

"What the ..." dad Todd Carballo said was Aaliyah's comment as they pulled into their driveway in St. George after returning from New York City to find one of her dreams came true -- a new playset and a bicycle awaiting her.

"I'm always telling my parents that I want my own slide and swingset," Aaliyah said after trying it out. And Todd said she always asks to go to the playground.

Aaliyah was diagnosed two years ago when a scan of her stomach revealed a tennis ball-sized tumor. She's had radiation, chemotherapy, ports and stents put in for medicines, and two bone marrow transplants, and, her family hopes, is heading toward the last leg of her treatment.

She, Todd, and mom Jessica Spaulding just spent a week at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where Aaliyah underwent antibody therapy, which Todd said was extremely painful for his daughter.

"She will not do anything without her father present," Spaulding said. "It is so hard. She wants her father for everything."

That has taken a toll on the family -- emotionally as well as financially -- with all the trips and treatments. Todd -- a lobsterman for 20 years -- has not had much time to make a living.

"No father or mother should have to stay behind," Spaulding said of the financial strain having both of them make the trips has put on them, and noted she has picked up a part-time job to help make ends meet.

Thanks to anonymous donations of money and time, and family friend Vickie Johnson taking the lead to set up a GoFundMe page, help for the family has begun.

"I knew there was something we could do," Johnson said July 2, explaining that local carpenters from Rayni-Daze and Medomak Maintenance volunteered their time Sunday, July 1, to put together the wooden playset Aaliyah's older sister, Katie Hall, and her fiancé, Matt Springer, bought. And another community member, Michael Cormier, mowed the entire lawn.

Johnson also hauled bags of sand in to fill the sandbox under the slide and added some toys. With the leftover money from a cash donation, she bought Aaliyah a princess bicycle, complete with a bell, training wheels and a basket on the back.

The first thing Aaliyah did upon arrival was show off the empty space in her mouth where she had lost a tooth, then she jumped on the bike, before heading to the swing, then the slide.

When asked what keeps her going through all the doctor's appointments, Aaliyah said playing, especially with her 13-month-old nephew, Jordan Gross.

"He makes me so happy and we just keep playing ... on and on and on," she said.

For now, the family will enjoy three weeks of rest before heading back to Kettering for a biopsy on her bone marrow. With an "all clear" sign, Aaliyah will then start a series of special vaccines.

According to Spaulding, Aaliyah will undergo a set of scans this week to check on the effectiveness of treatments. When they head back to New York, the vaccines will be administered once a week for three weeks, followed by a five-week break, then another regimen of three weeks, before a 10-week break, and so on from there.

Carballo has been attempting to keep supporters updated on his Facebook page throughout the process, thanking those who have sent thoughts and prayers.

He made a special note of Team Hailey Hugs for their understanding of the struggle. The nonprofit organization honors the daughter of founder Tabaitha Steward, who was the "one in five" who died from cancer in 2017.

There have been several fundraisers, and Aaliyah got the trip of a lifetime through the Make-a-Wish Foundation that sent her and her family for a week-long Disney vacation in March.

"It was awesome," Spaulding said.

"We are just grateful for the community and the people we have around here," Carballo said. "Without them we wouldn't be able to do this."

"Everyone's come together for us. It's huge, you know," he said. "It makes you grateful you're from a small town, I'll tell you that."

Although the vaccine doesn’t guarantee that the cancer won’t come back, combined with the antibody therapy, the chance of relapse is only 20 percent, instead of 80 percent if only the vaccines are done, according to Todd's post.

"So it’s a pretty easy decision," he said.

To support Aaliyah's fight, visit "Aaliyah's Last Leg of Treatment" gofundme page.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

Aaliyah Strong
Showing no signs of stopping, Aaliyah takes a spin on her new bicycle. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Aaliyah Carballo, left, poses for a moment with her dad and mom, Todd Carballo and Jessica Spaulding, after returning from a week of treatments for cancer in New York City. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Family friend Vickie Johnson, at right, stand with the playset and bicycle and "Welcome Home" sign. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
Aaliyah Carballo takes a nap on one of her many flights to and from New York City for her cancer treatments. (Courtesy of: Facebook)
Full of energy and joy for life, Aaliyah Carballo makes a heart to thank all who have been supporting her through her two-year battle with cancer. (Courtesy of: Facebook)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jul 03, 2018 15:35

God bless and prayers!



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