Since her diagnosis in 2008 with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of muscular cancer, 11-year-old Rehanna Lydon has charmed everyone from the staff at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh to her teachers at Evans City Middle School.
“She’s very popular with the nurses,” said Marcia Lydon, Rehanna’s mother.
On Saturday, she will turn her smile on Cranberry.
Rehanna will be the honoree at the area's annual Alex’s Lemonade Stand at Fun Fore All in Cranberry. The event, which is part of the national Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation to raise money for childhood cancer research, also is in memory of Henry Keating Scheck, who died in 2009 from brain cancer at age 4.
David and Lori Silvester, who are friends of Henry’s Maryland-based parents, have organized the Cranberry event for the past three years in Henry’s memory. Aiding them are their two children, 11-year-old Kate and 8-year-old Harrison.
“Once he passed away, my kids thought it would be nice to do a stand in his memory,” Lori Silvester said.
This is the first year the Lydon family will participate in the event. Silvester said her daughter, who also is a student at Evans City Middle School, met Rehanna at a birthday party more than a year ago. The two have been friends ever since, and so are their mothers.
"We're just really good friends now," Lydon said.
At the time their friendships began, Rehanna was in remission. She has since been diagnosed for a second time with the same type of cancer but in a different spot.
“I have it in my arm right now,” Rehanna said in a matter-of-fact manner Wednesday.
Lydon said her daughter is participating in a clinical trial study where she takes a daily pill form of chemotherapy. On Friday, Rehanna will undergo a MRI at Children’s Hospital to determine if the medication is working. If the pills are doing their job, Rehanna said she could continue the treatment for as long as two years. She also has a tumor in her foot that radiation has shrunk.
The rising sixth-grader, who loves Vera Bradley bags and New York City and wants to own a cake shop when she grows up, was finishing up second grade in 2008 when she learned she had cancer.
Lydon said Rehanna was complaining about pain behind her knee. At first, doctors diagnosed it as growing pains.
After a MRI showed a cancerous spot on her back, Rehanna was rushed into surgery. There is a vertical white scar on her lower back where doctors shaved down two vertebrae.
After undergoing chemo and radiation – and missing a decent portion of the school year -- Rehanna went into remission. About a year ago, she started to have pain in her side. Upon learning she had cancer for a second time, Rehanna started to cry, but not because of the diagnosis. She had a Relay for Life event in Apollo that she wanted to attend.
“That was a major thing for her,” Lydon said. “She was crying not because she had cancer but because she almost missed the relay.”
Doctors were able to schedule Rehanna’s radiation so that she could attend treatment after the relay. She was the only child to carry a banner during the survivors lap that year.
“I just felt kind of special,” she said.
Rehanna has her own Relay for Life team at the Apollo event called Rehanna’s Warriors. Team members wear purple shirts with gold letters across the front because purple is Rehanna’s favorite color. It’s also the color that represents cancer awareness. The gold represents childhood cancer.
Lydon said the family became involved with the Apollo event though her sister-in-law. While they made great connections there, Lydon said the family is excited to attend the Alex’s Lemonade Stand in Cranberry.
“It’s important that we get the word out,” she said. “Maybe we can help another family and make their journey a little easier.”
Silvester said this year’s goal is to raise $8,000 for cancer research. Last year, volunteers raised $6,000. The previous event raised $4,000.
If you're going:
Saturday’s event will be from noon to 9 p.m. Scheduled to appear are the Pittsburgh Pirates Parrot and the charity group Garrison Carida, whose members dress up as villains from the “Star Wars” series.
There also will be 50/50 raffles, face painting, gift baskets and a dunk tank. New this year is “cash cube,” which PNC Bank sponsors. A lucky participant will have 30 seconds to grab swirling cash in a glass cubicle.
The first 25 people to make $20 donations will receive a pass to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Those who make $5 or $10 donations will receive a Fun For All “fun card.” Silvester said Chick-fil-A in Cranberry is donating all the lemonade for the event.
Interested in buying a Rehanna's Warriors T-shirt? Email Marcia Lydon at Lydon5@embarqmail.com. The cost is $10 for a child's shirt and $12 for an adult shirt. All proceeds go toward Rehanna's Relay for Life team.