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Girl shows bravery facing leukemia, friends lift mom’s spirits

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Twelve-year-old Katie Mitchell cut off 10 inches of her hair June 2 and donated it to Locks of Love even as she was in the throes of violent nausea. She wanted to get it cut before chemotherapy damaged it, said her mother, Melissa Mitchell.

On May 21, James and Melissa Mitchell were told that their daughter had acute lymphocytic leukemia. Ironically, Katie had been growing her hair for more than a year to donate it to Locks of Love, a foundation that makes wigs for children with cancer. About 4,000 new cases of acute lymphocytic leukemia are diagnosed each year in the United States, and most occur in children under 10, but it can appear in all age groups.

About a month before being diagnosed with leukemia, Katie had her hair measured to see if it had reached the required length of 10 inches. Her mother later told Katie she could forego having it cut since she was so ill from chemo treatments.

“Katie just said, ‘Nope, it might start falling out and then some kid who needs it won’t get it,’” Mitchell said. “She wouldn’t even have it made into a wig for herself. She wanted to give her hair to another child.”

Mitchell, who works as loss prevention manager for LifeWay Christian Stores based in Nashville, Tenn., said the devastating news of Katie’s illness is only half of the story. “When I sat listening to the doctors at Vanderbilt explain that our beautiful daughter Katie had cancer and would need chemotherapy for the next two years and three months, I had an overwhelming sense that everything that mattered to us was gone.”

But Katie’s bravery and the response of fellow employees have been “unbelievable,” Mitchell said. “We haven’t been alone for a moment. It is unbelievable what LifeWay people are doing.”

She said people –- “some I’ve hardly met” -– visited Katie at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and sent cards, prayer notes, balloons, gifts and stuffed animals. “Creating a mission opportunity for herself,” Mitchell said Katie gave some of the toys and gifts to other children in the hospital who must be there long term.

When the doctors reported their diagnosis, Mitchell said she walked out of the hospital room to regain her composure and call her husband. “When I walked back into my daughter’s room, there were Bruce and Ruth Munns. I just fell into Ruth’s arms sobbing.”

In addition to Munns, director of retail store operations, employees Gena Deere of the logistics department and Heather Burczynski of retail direct marketing were there for them day and night, Mitchell said. Mark Scott, vice president of LifeWay stores, and Carol Ann Draper, wife of President Jimmy Draper, visited the hospital within hours after Katie was admitted.

“I felt like the cavalry had arrived,” Mitchell exclaimed. “It all just made my heart stop.”

A Christian since her mid-30s, Mitchell said she was hesitant to take a job with LifeWay as a loss prevention manager. “I thought, ‘How will loss prevention fit into a Christian organization?’ I wondered why I was drawn here, and now I know why.”

In a letter to LifeWay employees, Mitchell wrote, “The overwhelming grief and loss that we felt in that first moment has been replaced by being overwhelmed at the kindness of the people I work with. The simple truth is that God knew this was part of the path for Katie and for us as a family. He prepared us by placing people in our lives that would lift us up in a time of such great despair.”

Though originally distraught over what other kids would think about her as the bald seventh-grader with leukemia, Katie decided to take her mother’s advice and look at it as a mission opportunity at Woodland Middle School.

“I told her, ‘Maybe someone will say something unkind,’” Mitchell said. “But then they are going to look at you and how you handle this, and they will see what happens when you have a relationship with Christ and faith in God.’”

    About the Author

  • Terri Lackey