Fox Point - There are times when the English language just doesn't suffice.
Shakespeare knew it, coining some 1,700 words in his lifetime, and it seems as if 8-year-old Audrey Parrott of Fox Point knows, having made a word which, all at once, describes strength in the face of darkness, a community reaching out to one of its own with a sea of hands, and the heartbreaking crash of innocence and malady:
In early October, Audrey's mother Mary Jo says, her thoughts were on her children's Halloween costumes. When Audrey complained that her nose hurt on Oct. 4, almost like someone had hit it, they found themselves at the hospital, and after a series of tests, Audrey was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
"At that point you have to decide which path you're going to take," says Mary Jo. "We went forward and started her treatment that night."
Since then, the Parrott's have completed the first phase of treatment, a grueling, nearly monthlong affair of frequent clinic treatments which left Audrey spent. After a week of rest, they're in phase two, a less intense combination of treatments administered at home and the hospital.
Although Audrey didn't go into remission as quickly as planned, the combination of her youth, gender and treatment give her a 90 percent chance of avoiding relapse, according to her doctors.
"Fortunately, she meets a lot of (the success criteria)," says Mary Jo. "It's a very good chance."
After seven to eight more months of treatment Audrey could go into a maintenance period, says Mary Jo, who has been staying home to administer treatment and expects to remain there throughout the duration of the two-and-a-half year program.
"Although you haven't lost her, you've lost who she was - a happy 8-year-old girl," she says, reflecting back on Audrey's diagnosis and subsequent treatment. "It's a lot of emotional stress."
Neighbor steps up
They haven't faced it alone.
Nicolet Junior Jessica Leucke, a neighbor of the Parrotts and a swim coach of Audrey's at the Fox Point pool, knew straightaway that something had to be done.
"I felt like I should help as much as I could," Luecke says.
She was instrumental in organizing a donation drive which culminated in some Nicolet faculty shaving their heads for the cause. As the community's awareness of the Parrotts' plight grew, so did the support.
After the fundraiser at Nicolet, a bowling event at Brown Deer Lanes was hosted by local philanthropic organization The Odd Fellows. Luecke and others have sold T-shirts bearing Audrey's own design and the "Peace, Love and Audreyness" slogan throughout the North Shore. And after Luecke and other organizers managed to make preparations in just over two weeks, nearly 500 people crowded Stormonth Elementary and the surrounding streets of Fox Point on Sunday to run and walk a 5K to support Audrey's treatment - with coffee courtesy of Starbucks and bagels from Bruegger's as well as raffle items provided from local businesses.
When Mequon restaurant Ferrante's - where Luecke works - promised to donate a portion of Monday night's proceeds to the Parrotts, the turnout was, in manager Suzy Peltz's words, "huge … beautiful. It was nonstop excitement."
Back to school
With the weight of the community behind her, Audrey returned to school at Stormonth on Monday morning for the first time since her diagnosis. Though she'll only be going a few days each week for a few hours at a time, her parents say the return to normalcy and socialization is medicine in itself.
"I think she needs that interaction," her father Chad says.
To Luecke, Audrey is a role model, defined by the word she created.
"Every time I see her she's smiling," Luecke says. " 'Audreyness' to me is courage and strength."
"I think it's very nice," says Audrey of the community outpouring, still shy despite all the attention, "and it makes me feel very good."
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
To learn how you can aid Audrey and the Parrotts, go to helpaudrey.org.
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