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Cancer pulls Mission families together

20131115 Teen-Aids-With-Cancer-PatientsColette Walsh teared up when she talked about her 16-year-old daughter, Sarah, one of her best caregivers when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2011.

"I'm a little bit crazy about her," Colette said, wrapping an arm around Sarah's shoulder. “She has a good heart and a kind soul, and she's thoughtful and determined. And she just makes us proud every day."

For her part, Sarah doesn't show a lot of emotion. She's a private person who prefers to think things through before reacting to them. But when she learned last year that Ben Karam, a third-grader and friend of her little brother, had lymphoma, Sarah acted. Karam was receiving treatments through Vannie Cook Children’s Clinic, and the teen wanted to do something to show her family's support. She petitioned her classmates at school and friends of the family to donate books for the clinic.

"He's so little," Sarah said. "He was probably 8 or 9. I knew what she (Colette) had gone through and just thinking that this little boy had to do the same thing but at 8 years old ... but he did it really well. Every time you'd see him, you would see him and he'd be happy. He wouldn't be sad or anything. It makes you grateful for what you have."

In August, Sarah announced she was able to collect 450 books, about half came from the school.

Ben was asked to sign his name for a sticker placed inside of each of the books. And he came through with a unique signature, signing Ben and outlining it with an ichthus, a Christian symbol that looks like a fish.

He’s still treating, taking a chemotherapy pill, but Colette said the last time they saw him, and he had a black eye from tumbling with his brothers.

“Just a fun black eye if there ever was a thing,” she said.

The Karams are friends with the Walsh family and when Sarah found out Ben had lymphoma, her own mom was still receiving treatment.

"It was our way of saying, 'We're with you,'" Colette said. "So that's kind of where our heart was when that started."

It made sense, she said, to honor Ben by helping other patients at Vannie Cook, which just moved into a new facility and could use the books.

Colette herself was diagnosed on April Fool's Day when Sarah was in eighth grade. The Walshes regularly have family meetings, and one was immediately called to share the news.

"You'll never know what the family meeting is going to entail, going to DisneyLand or going to M.D. Anderson. It’s a dirty trick,” Colette said. "Now it's a joke. We laugh now."

Nobody was laughing on April 1, 2011.

"I remember not being very sure at first what it was or how bad it was," Sarah said. "It probably took me a couple of weeks to wrap my brain about it, but ..."

"We're strong," Colette broke in.

"I'm strong," Sarah finished.

It was a game-changer for the Walsh household. The entire family had to step up to do things that Colette, a full-time mom, normally would have done herself. From the very beginning, the Walshes were determined to get through it as faithfully and gracefully as they could.

In May, Colette walked the survivor walk in the American Cancer Society Walk for Life and Sarah walked alongside her as her caregiver.

“I know it can either pull you apart or pull you together, and I think our family just got stronger,” Sarah said.

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CoverageAreaThe Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.

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