MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
Aurora Kimball and Haley Tyrrell are the best of friends. They enjoy playing with Barbie dolls and pretending to be Disney princesses. The 9-year-olds live aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, but they met each other in an unlikely place — the hospital.
In 2009, doctors found a medulloblastoma, (tumor) in Tyrrell’s brain, and in 2011, Kimball was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The girls met at Tripler Army Medical Center, and today, they continue to fight cancer. Kimball and Tyrrell will be honored guests at an April 21, 2013 fundraiser for St. Baldrick’s Foundation at Dave and Buster’s in Honolulu at 1 p.m.
It’s estimated that more than 11,000 children younger than 15 years old will be diagnosed with a form of cancer in 2013, according to the American Cancer Society. But this year, more than 50,000 people across the nation and other countries are raising money to help fund research to stop cancer in its tracks.
St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a Monrovia, Calif.-based nonprofit organization, has funded research for childhood cancer since 2004. Each year the organization encourages people in the community to shave their heads completely bald while raising funds for childhood cancer.
“We shave because kids with cancer often lose their hair during treatment, and we stand proudly bald beside them,” the foundation’s website reads.
The families of both girls have participated in the head-shaving fundraiser in previous years. Tyrrell’s family was also featured in the Hawaii Marine in April 2012.
“St. Baldrick’s is the only organization that (directly) funds pediatric cancer research,” said Aurora’s mother, Tonya Kimball. “Although the others are great, worthy causes, the majority (of the funding goes) to adults. Aurora and Haley have benefited from the research. It’s such an impactful event (and) a worthy cause. This is what’s keeping our kids here.”
Tonya Kimball said her daughter was diagnosed the weekend of the inaugural Hawaii head-shaving fundraiser. The family had only been stationed in Hawaii for four months when Aurora started to experience bone pain, a fever, and at one point, couldn’t walk.
“We benefited from the research that is funded by this organization,” Tonya Kimball said. “We always want to be a part of it.”
Navy Lt. Ben Mathis, the current base chaplain, has joined Aurora’s team and will be shaving his head at the fundraiser on Sunday.
“I have watched Aurora go through two years of treatment,” Mathis said. “She has bravely submitted to all of her treatments which we all hope will cure her of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. As you can imagine, she has had some really sick days and some really great days. In spite of it all, she continues to persevere and savor life.”
Because of her condition, Aurora has missed many days at school due to numerous medical appointments.
“It sucks that I can’t play rough with my family, like wrestle with my daddy,” Aurora said. “I feel sick and I feel tired when I have my chemotherapy and my lumbar punctures.”
Despite her condition, Aurora makes time for fun activities like playing golf, playing with Tyrrell, or drawing her favorite animals. According to her father, she knows how to make people smile.
“When she comes into a room she’s always smiling, even through the tough times,” Aurora’s father said. “We have our sad moments but she’s been more positive. You never know what she’s going to say … it makes other people laugh, too.”
Aurora had more reasons to smile earlier this year as Make-A-Wish Hawaii sent her to the San Diego Zoo to become a junior zookeeper. The young, aspiring veterinarian and animal lover worked with a cheetah specialist and met a cheetah named Shiley. Until then, she had hated white lab coats, because going through chemotherapy meant being around many lab coats. But her perception changed, Mathis said, once she saw the veterinarians at the zoo wearing white lab coats.
Tonya Kimball said more recently her daughter has progressed from sitting out activities to running with her classmates and friends, though not as fast.
“We’ve come a long way,” Tonya Kimball said.