Friday, January 22, 1999

LIGHTING UP LIVES


Cancer patient who helps others among Lighthouse Vision Award winners

BY CINDY KRANZ
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[mulroy]
Photos on Lisa Mulroy's 15th birthday cake include one that shows her bald after chemotherapy at age 8.

| ZOOM |
        Surrounded by family and friends, Lisa Mulroy blew out the pink, white and yellow candles on her 15th birthday cake Saturday. A decade ago, her family was unsure whether Lisa would see her 15th birthday.

        The West Chester girl has been cancer free for almost seven years. Seven photos reprinted in the cake's white icing chronicled her life. One photo showed Lisa with shoulder-length dark brown hair at age 6 (before chemotherapy) and bald at age 8 (after chemotherapy).

        “That's just part of her life,” said her mother, Joyce Mulroy. “She was always so happy through the two years of treatment. She always had a smile on her face.”

        Lisa's memories of her fight against cancer are not all bad. She and her parents made new friends with other cancer patients and their families, and formed close relationships with doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital Medical Center.

        Her survival is remarkable. But even more amazing is that during 21/2 years of chemotherapy and beyond, Lisa raised money and spirits for other children with cancer. Helping others has made Lisa one of five winners in the second annual Lighthouse Vision Awards.

IF YOU GO
• What: Lighthouse Vision Awards Ceremony: Awards for service to adults/seniors; service to youth; service to the environment; service to the community; and youth groups in service.
• When: 1 p.m. Saturday.
• Where: Kenwood Towne Centre food court, 7875 Montgomery Road.
• Miscellaneous: Award winners and finalists will be featured in an exhibit at Kenwood Towne Center. The exhibit moves downtown Monday and will be located at City Hall (Monday-Feb. 26), Carew Tower (Monday-Feb. 10) and the Westin Hotel atrium (Feb. 10-26).
• Information: 221-3350.
Other winners
Finalists
        Sponsored by Lighthouse Youth Services, the awards honor community service by teen-agers. Winners and 20 finalists will be recognized Saturday at Kenwood Towne Centre. Lisa won the service-to-youth category.

        Lisa, a Lakota ninth-grader, was nominated by Anne Garrett. She was a classmate in Lisa's kindergarten class at Hopewell Elementary in 1990 when Lisa was stricken by rhabdomyosarcoma, cancer of the sinus.

        “Even when Lisa was sick, she was involved with helping others,” Anne said in nominating Lisa. “During her years as a cancer patient, she and her family made tremendous efforts to hold blow-out parties to raise money for other cancer-stricken children at Children's Hospital.

        “I find it amazing that at a time of such great crisis, they still were able to reach out to others.”

        Soft-spoken Lisa talks candidly about her fight against cancer. Despite the serious topic, the conversation sparkles with laughter.

        Losing her long dark hair was difficult. With chemotherapy, hair came out in clumps on her pillowcase. Her school gave her permission to wear a hat to cover her bald head, but Lisa declined. “She was very comfortable with who she was,” her mother said.

        The brown-eyed girl, with hair that grew back light brown, learned to fully appreciate the gift of life at the age of 6 — sooner than many of us.

Finding a problem
        Lisa, the only child of Mark and Joyce Mulroy, knew something was wrong when she started seeing multiple images. Doctors discovered a tumor in her sinus cavity so large that it was pressing the eye nerve. A biopsy revealed a malignancy.

        The tumor was too close to her brain to operate. Besides chemotherapy, she had 52 radiation treatments.

        Lisa had to put childhood on hold. She wore a “C-line” in her chest to administer chemotherapy.

        “I couldn't go upside down, couldn't roller skate or bicycle ride,” she said. “If I fell and injured myself, it could kill me. We were always very careful about what activities I did.”

        The treatments, as they do to many people, made her sick. In second grade, she missed more than 150 days of school. She attended when she could, and her parents helped her keep up with school work. When she lost her hair, her school showed a Charlie Brown video about children with cancer who go bald. “I don't think I could have had a better school to help me through,” Lisa said.

        Still, with her life on the line, she and her parents thought of others. They stumbled across the Children's Miracle Network Telethon, which raises money for children's hospitals.

        The same year Lisa was diagnosed, the Mulroys held a backyard volleyball party, raising $4,000 for the network.

        “It seemed like a good cause,” Lisa said. “Our family has always been giving to people. We felt we wanted to do something for them. We were so touched when we were watching this marathon on TV.”

        While Lisa was going through chemotherapy, she and her parents did much to lift the spirits of other children on “chemo day” at Children's Hospital.

        One time, the Mulroys declared it “animal day.” They asked kids to wear a T-shirt with an animal on it or to bring their favorite stuffed toy. They bought boxes of animal cookies for the nurses to hand out to kids, and the entire family dressed as bears and carried a boombox playing “Bare Necessities.”

        “I guess that's how we made it through when she was going through cancer,” Mrs. Mulroy said. “We always kept our thoughts on other people.”

A friend
        Doctors found cancer in Nick Jackson's neck in 1991. Lisa met him when he, too, was undergoing chemotherapy at Children's.

        “Our families just got to be great friends,” Lisa said. “We always kept in touch. Nick and I were always there for each other. He helped me, and I helped him.”

        Nick, 13, of Mount Washington is cancer-free now, but there was a time in 1997 when his prognosis was poor. He wasn't expected to live past Thanksgiving 1997.

        “It was real hard for me,” Lisa said. “I had to be absent from school a couple days. Nick and I are so close, I couldn't stand it.”

        Lisa channeled her despair into action. “I just felt I needed to do something for Nick. He's done so much for me. I wanted to help him.”

        She called his mom.

        “I asked what thing Nick wanted most before he went on,” Lisa recalled. Nick wanted to go to Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., but Lisa wasn't sure she could raise enough money. Was there anything else? A video camera.

        Lisa, then an eighth-grader at Hopewell Junior High, convinced the school's Pride Committee to help raise money for Nick and led the fund-raising drive. She showed a video of her talking about her friendship with Nick to junior high students at her school and Lakota Ridge. She raised $5,200 in two weeks.

        Meanwhile, the Special Wish Foundation got involved and agreed to send Nick on his dream vacation. Part of the $5,200 she raised was donated to the foundation. The rest was used to buy a video camera and tripod for Nick and to help his family at Christmas.

        Lisa invited Nick to her school for its Christmas party, and gave him the video camera and news about the trip.

        “I knew nothing,” said Nick, now a seventh-grader at Guardian Angels School. “I was so surprised. I just thought I was going to watch a concert. I had no idea I was getting anything. I was almost crying. My mom was crying.” (He and his family made the trip to Universal Studios last January.) Doing this good deed helped Nick and made Lisa feel good, too.

        “That was my greatest Christmas ever,” Lisa said. “I felt like I didn't have to get any presents.” Her greatest gift was the sensation she felt when she saw the expression on their faces.

        Lisa still is helping others. She's a peer mediator at school. She and friends decorated the cancer clinic at Children's for Christmas.

        She continues to encourage Nick, cancer-free for two months.

        “She's one of the nicest people that I've ever met,” Nick said. “She always wants to help people.”

        Lighthouse gives winners $500 each, to be donated to organizations of their choice. Lisa will donate her prize to the Children's Hospital Medical Center Hematology/Oncology Department for its activity center.

        And she continues to inspire and give hope to other children who must battle cancer.

Other Lighthouse Vision Award winners
Lighthouse Vision Award finalists



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