COARSEGOLD – On a sunny morning a little girl sits in a little chair, watching Disney cartoons and slowly nibbling a raisin bagel.
She wears a fancy dress and complains when her hair is brushed.
Carefully walking around the coffee table, barefoot in her tidy home, she smiles shyly for the stranger, at first.
Later, she poses for a photo with hand on hip, the way 3 ½-year-olds do. She performs princess Karaoke into a pink microphone and throws one hand in the air for dramatic emphasis.
Carma Cornell seems like every sweet little girl you’ve ever met, except she’s maybe a little smarter than your average bear.
Until Carma turns around and walks away, and then you may notice the soft scar on the back of her neck where doctors attempted to remove a tumor. As it turned out, the surgical team was barely able to perform a biopsy, because the tumor was so remarkably entwined with Carma’s brain stem. That was in 2012, and now, the little scar remains, and so does the tumor.
Cancer is currently the number one cause of disease-related death in children and adolescents from birth to 19 years of age. In 2014, an estimated 15,780 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed, and 1,960 deaths from cancer will occur in that age range. One of Carma’s “chemo buddies” died suddenly, only yesterday.
Carma’s mother, Jachie Cornell, explains that only 3.8% of all cancer research funding allotted by the federal government goes to children. Only 1% of that goes toward child brain cancer research.
May is Brain Cancer Awareness Month, and also the season for American Cancer Society fundraising.
Carma, her friends and family are part of a team at Relay for Life, a 24 hour fundraising celebration and memorial tribute to cancer survivors and its victims.
Relay takes place this year on the track at Yosemite High School (YHS), starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, May 17 and continuing through the night and into the following day.
Among the booths and camps set up, you’ll find one called Cans for Carma, a team in honor of Carma Cornell.
That will also be the booth featuring up-and-coming Mixed Martial Arts fighter and YHS grad, P.J. Reyna, who will meet and greet to raise funds and awareness of childhood cancer. Reyna is a longtime family friend of the Cornells. He works out at Dethrone Base Camp in Fresno, with Dethrone owner Josh Crosscheck grooming him for the future.
Reyna was early on drafted as a soldier in Carma’s battle against cancer.
It all started on August 17, 2012, when then 2-year-old Carma was diagnosed with a tumor on her spinal cord.
Two months later, accepting a dinner in their honor courtesy of Helping One Woman (HOW), Carma’s mother Jachie Cornell explained that she long suspected her daughter had a serious medical condition, despite reassurance. Jachie and her husband are also the proud parents of an older daughter, Dejea, now 6.
Jachie explained that their pediatrician in 2012 believed Carma was simply slow to develop the strength and coordination to reach milestones like crawling or walking. Soon, the Cornell family, including dad Matt, would learn exactly what was slowing Carma down.
Once the toddler was diagnosed and the biopsy showed cancer, doctors were unable to operate on the aggressive tumor because, as Jachie said then, “the neurology team can’t decipher between the tumor and her spinal cord.”
Chemotherapy began weekly at Children’s Hospital Central California, in an attempt to quell the cancer. Meanwhile, for the Cornells, life went on in its fashion, a mix of school events and family functions, with chemo and doctors appointments in between. As Carma grew older, it became clear that this was no ordinary child, but a strong and faithful fighter with a tremendous will to survive.
That will is in evidence every day now, whether it’s Carma not wanting her hair brushed or picking just the right song to sing at home for Karaoke, and it continues to be among her biggest assets as the storm around the bright and lovely child continues.
Last February, the Cornells received bad news. Carma’s tumor has developed into a glioma. Gliomas make up approximately 80% of all brain and central nervous system tumors, and 30% of malignant brain tumors. For Carma, there is currently no traditional treatment. Chemotherapy won’t work. Carma gets a scan every three months to see if the tumor has grown.
Her most recent scan, on April 23, showed that the tumor is unchanged, which is good.
Today, Carma walks carefully without much help, dwelling at the edge of the couch, the table, the chair. She stands mostly steady and sings happily, though pain is never too far away. The glioma gripping her brain stem puts pressure on Carma’s circulatory system, pressing against the main arteries that supply blood to her brain and heart.
Doctors have said that the tumor is untreatable, and will limit her lifespan, an idea unfathomable to the family. They plan on living with a positive attitude.
Carma is currently awaiting braces to help strengthen her legs, and a walker to enable her movement. She goes for therapy at Coarsegold Elementary School, where Carma gets her legs massaged and stretched out, and plays while building her muscles.
Carma’s mother is a warrior as well, and she’s determined to fight for her own daughter and other children with cancer. The only time the warrior’s armor shows a crack is when she talks about waking up in the morning, desperately hopeful to hear Carma’s voice.
When she does hear that sweet voice, Jachie knows they have Carma with them for another day, and that’s how it goes, one day at a time. Jachie Cornell thinks it’s a travesty that so little is spent on funding research toward preventing cancer in kids, and many agree with her.
That’s why she’s set up a Facebook page called Carma Solider Fan Site, for “soldiers” fighting the battle for elimination of kids’ cancer. Don’t bother to tell Jachie she spelled “soldier” wrong – she’ll tell you she did not. It’s just that this kind of soldier is different, it’s solider, and she wants to point that out.
There’s a new breed of warriors rising up to fight the injustice of sick children and lacking funds, and Jachie, with Matt, Carma, Dejea, PJ Reyna and all the people who are on their team, are part of this battle.
The community is encouraged to join in the fight.
Support Relay for Life Team Cans for Carma.