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Battle of a young lifetime

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(Sarah Nader ())
Sarah Nader - snader@shawmedia.com Ella Van Gheem, 6, of Gilberts hugs her mom, Katie, while attending a rally Thursday for National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month at Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove. Ella was diagnosed with leukemia two years ago and is receiving treatment.

PINGREE GROVE – For two years, 6-year-old Ella Van Gheem has battled. She’s undergone intensive chemotherapy and impromptu check-ins at the hospital and has lost her hair.

Ella’s leukemia diagnosis in August 2010 floored the Van Gheem family of Gilberts. But with the help of family and friends, the Van Gheems were determined Ella would recover from the blood cancer.

Her support network was on full display Thursday afternoon at Cambridge Lakes Charter School, where Ella is a first-grader. The school’s first- and second-graders held a rally for Ella in honor of National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which ends Sunday.

“You don’t feel alone,” Ella’s mom, Katie Van Gheem, said of the community support. “To be at the end of this two-year journey and have little markers on the way where people have said ‘We’re with you and we support you,’ it’s great. It’s very comforting to know that you aren’t alone in the journey.”

Nearly 150 elementary students tie-dyed bandannas and made yellow ribbons to show support for Ella as she nears recovery and the end of her treatment.

The rally also is important, Katie Van Gheem said, because it brings attention to childhood cancer.

Cambridge has been a constant in the background during Ella’s battle. Preschool teachers donated books for her during her initial eight months of chemotherapy. Her kindergarten class sported bandannas the last week of school this past spring when Ella lost her hair for the second time.

Katie Van Gheem has recorded Ella’s recovery in a blog that, she said, now is reaching beyond families dealing with childhood cancer. The family also is active with Cure Search, a national nonprofit devoted to childhood cancer research.

Ella’s diagnosis came after she couldn’t fight off a flu. After numerous hospital visits and blood tests, she was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer most typically of white blood cells that fight infection, and can spread to lymph nodes and organs.

Ella has about a month left in her chemo treatment. After that, Katie Van Gheem said she hopes the coughs and sniffles that children tend to come down with will be no more than a common cold.

But, she said, “I think it will always be touch-and-go in some way, shape or form.”

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