By Mike McCombs
SEABROOK – You often hear people remark that no one ever reports the good news.
That’s just not true, and here’s proof: Vicky Desylva came home Monday night.
Friends, family and people she didn’t even know were a part of a caravan of motorcycles, cars, SUVs and even a fire engine that paraded down Morgan Road on Monday evening for the last few feet of her more-than-eight-month journey.
And hopefully, she’s here to stay.
Vicky’s mother, Jennifer Marlow, said her daughter was roughhousing with her sister last fall when her sister felt a bump on Vicky’s breast.
A trip to the doctor revealed more bumps and resulted in a trip to a breast surgeon for an examination, ultrasounds and blood work.
Then came the call no parent wants to get, around 5 p.m., Oct. 29, 2020: “Her blood shows she has leukemia.”
Jennifer immediately made all the necessary phone calls to family, including her husband, Dana, and hit the road for the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
Vicky had accute lymphoblastic leukemia. She was in Charleston about 50 days … the first time around.
She failed the first phase of induction. The chemotherapy wouldn’t take.
“Her white counts would go down then come right back up like nothing happened,” Jennifer said.
Doctors determined she needed a bone marrow transplant. Her mother would be the donor.
On March 8, she went back into the hospital 10 days before the transplant. She had six sessions of total body radiation, underwent tests, X-rays and bone marrow biopsies.
Then came the big day – March 18, the bone marrow transplant.
Vicky’s hospital stay was a total of 51 days. Then the real test, making it through 100 days cancer-free living nearby in Charleston.
Jennifer said she struggled initially.
“In the beginning I was a mess,” she said. “I’m a big believer in God, but I had a moment where I yelled at God, ‘Why me, why this, why my kid?’”
Jennifer tried hard not to let Vicky see her struggle.
“I would go to the bathroom or go outside and break down,” she said. “That was short-lived, though. God won’t give us anything that we can’t handle.”
As time passed, Jennifer said she handled the situation better. Mainly because Vicky herself set the example.
“Vicky is really strong. One of the doctors came in and Vicky was sleeping, and said, ‘I’m just waiting for Vicky to break down,’” she said. “I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘Well, she hasn’t really cried, she hasn’t been mean or lashed out.’ I said, ‘Vicky is not going to do that. She’s not going to cry. She’s not going to lash out. That’s not who she is.’
“It was hard for me, but I knew Vicky was going to kick cancer’s butt.”
The doctors warned Vicky and the Marlows that most kids end up back in the hospital at some point. A fever. An infection. Something. Don’t be afraid, they said. It happens.
It didn’t happen.
The support of family and close friends kept Jennifer and Dana and Vicky strong.
As the days in Charleston drew to a close, someone contacted Bikers Against Bullies. The group goes into schools and gives anti-bullying and making-the-right-choices talks.
Along with a fire engine from the Sheldon Fire District, a dozen or so members of the group braved the rains of Tropical Storm Danny to wait for Vicky and her family Monday evening at the Dollar General near Gardens Corner. From there, they escorted the string of cars belonging to Jennifer, her family and friends to the Marlows’ home in Seabrook, where more family and friends were waiting with hugs, gifts, food and smiles. (See video here.)
“When we got the call about this, I mean how can you say no to this?” said Zane “Gonzo” Lewis of Bikers Against Bullies. “A few people were giving us a little bit of grief today about riding into a tropical storm. We said, ‘we don’t care, there’s a kid on the other side.’ We just did it today, mainly, because it’s the right thing to do. Period. A little bit wet, but we’ll be dry when we get home.”
Surprised, Vicky said she didn’t expect this and didn’t know about any of it until it was happening.
She said she realized when “Mom put her blinkers on and slowed down and people started running in the street.”
The prognosis is good. Vicky still has 100 percent donor cells.
She has to go to the clinic once a week for 180 days. But as Jennifer said, they’re taking it step by step.
Vicky said she was strong because she knew she “had a lot of support. I knew if I broke down, I had people around me to help me get through.”
She’s said she’s not scared of coming out of remission.
“It happened once,” Vicky said. “I can do it all over again.”
Here’s hoping she doesn’t have to.
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.
Above: Vicky Desylva, 15, left, and mom Jennifer Marlow pose for a picture with some of the Bikers Against Bullies motorcycle club as a backdrop Monday afternoon. Photo by Bob Sofaly.