It was the week before Christmas when Makenna Renard’s family noticed the bruising.
The bruises seemed to come with the slightest touch and were often very bad. Then, she started to lose energy. The bubbly, sassy, fun loving, seventh-grade cheerleader seemed to begin to fade. Immediately, her mother, Karen, took her to get tested.
“I was at Legoland with Makenna and her twin 4-year-old brothers when they told me the news,” said Karen. “I remember we had just gotten there and there were so many people around us. When I answered the phone they told me, ‘you need to bring Makenna here now. Not tomorrow. Not later. Now.’ I remember everything at that moment stood perfectly still. I felt like I was in a fog. I couldn’t breathe. I started hyperventilating. It was horrible.”
That was the day that Karen learned that her only daughter had acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive cancer that starts inside bone marrow and develops quickly, so quickly that doctors gave Makenna 6 to 9 months to live.
“I felt like they made a mistake. I felt like they would say ‘just kidding’ after they told me,” said Karen. “I felt like they had messed up. It was completely mind-blowing.”
Time began to race by for Karen, family and friends, yet it felt like the whole world had stopped as they watched Makenna undergo her first round of chemotherapy.
“We started on Jan. 4th,” she said. “We were all so hopeful that we got it out of her blood. She lost all her hair, she was so sick. Whatever you could get, she did, hives, high fever, and rashes. But, it didn’t work. I had to be the one to tell her that it didn’t do anything, after all that,” said Karen, the emotional pain evident in her voice.
They pursued another round and then a third, but still nothing got better for Makenna.
But Karen and her tight circle of supporters refuse to lose hope. So, starting on March 29, Makenna will begin a pilot study at St. Jude’s Research Hospital in Tennessee.
Once there, the 45-day treatment — that has only been tried on two other patients — will begin. The trial procedure will attempt to take what they call “killer cells” from Makenna’s parents and put them in Makenna’s body to try and have them attack the cancer. If that works, she will then get a bone marrow transplant from her brother, who is a perfect match.
“I don’t know what happens after that. I don’t even want to ask. This has got to work,” said Karen. “I don’t care what I have to do or where I have to send her. I will. I have watched other kids being wheeled out of Rady’s Children’s Hospital and I collapse and want to throw up.”
Through the tears and the dark moments Karen is still able to smile, though, when she thinks about Makenna throughout this horrific experience.
“She’s an amazing kid. Earlier, she had a bone marrow aspiration, where they basically take something that looks like a hollow ice pick and suck out the bone marrow juices. Fifteen minutes after surgery, she went to hospital Pilates,” Karen said proudly. “The doctors and nurses come in and constantly say, ‘I don’t know how you are doing it, Makenna.’
“My own kid is blowing my mind. She is changing other people’s lives. She gets all the other kids rallied up. She goes to their rooms when they aren’t feeling well and says to them, ‘c’mon let’s go play a game or let’s go to school or let’s go hide from the nurses.’ She’s amazing.”
And her Olive Peirce Middle School teachers, friends and counselors agree wholeheartedly. OPMS counselor Eileen Tierney has been a constant support to Karen through counseling, resources and even finding her a babysitter for her twins. She talks to Karen almost daily and is always on the phone with other parents and students to keep them up to date about Makenna.
Another support system Karen said she couldn’t live without is fellow parent Laurie Chambers. The two have daughters the same age but weren’t friends before the diagnosis.
“She drives kids down to see Makenna, she sells support bracelets before and after school, she just loves my daughter and she’s amazing,” said Karen. “I don’t know what I would do without her. I am driving her car right now because mine is in the shop and she told me, ‘keep it as long as you need — a week, six months, whatever.’”
Chambers met Makenna when her daughter invited her to her birthday party, and she said she just instantly fell in love with the young teen.
“She is so funny,” said Chambers. “I bring carloads of girls down to visit her weekly and one time we couldn’t go in Makenna’s room because of the risk of infections, so we sat outside her window and she did a modeling show for us with her beanies. At one point, all six of her friends were sitting outside texting her and she sent them each the same text message saying, ‘don’t tell anyone, but you are my favorite.’ We were laughing hysterically. Here is this girl who is sick and stuck in her room, but she is making us laugh and just so full of life.”
Chambers is there for the hard times, too. “Every day it changes for her and that is really hard,” she said.
Before the next step, there was one surprise waiting for Makenna, a trip to Orlando followed by a cruise through the Make-A-Wish foundation. Her wish was to take a cruise, and last weekend that dream came true.
Anyone who would like to help support Makenna may send or bring all card, gifts or donations to the Ramona Sentinel, 425-A 10th St. Checks may be written to Karen Renard with “Makenna’s Miracle Fund” in the memo section. Chambers will pick up the gifts once or twice a week from the Sentinel office. Chambers has also put jars throughout the community for donations.
For more information, contact Tierney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 760-787-2473.