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Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014

Little girl fighting big battle

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

(Photo)
Now in recovery, Hannah McClellan is trying to give back to St. Jude Children's Research Center
SIKESTON -- Hannah McClellan was getting dressed for a Christmas dance recital when her mother, Kathy McClellan, noticed a lump along Hannah's left rib cage.

Immediately Mrs. McClellan was on the phone with Hannah's pediatrician to schedule an appointment as soon as possible. The pediatrician diagnosed the lump as a tumor and recommended the McClellans visit St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. It was there where Hannah's tumor was diagnosed as a form of bone cancer called Ewing's sarcoma.

A little over a year ago, Hannah's road to recovery from cancer was just beginning. And today, almost two weeks after her last round of chemotherapy, which took place every 21 days for 48 weeks, the 10-year-old has a different take on life -- and her illness.

"If I had to choose to have cancer again, I wouldn't choose it, but I'm glad about all of the friends I made at St. Jude," Hannah said. "I'll keep in touch with them all my life."

One of the friends Hannah met at St. Jude lives in Louisiana so Hannah bought phone cards for her friend and herself so they can call each other whenever they want.

Over the past 13 months, Hannah has undergone chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to remove an orange-sized tumor from one of her left ribs. The chemotherapy and radiation helped shrink the tumor to a size that would allow surgeons to remove it. After a seven-hour hour operation in June, Hannah had trouble breathing on her own and was placed on a ventilator for more than a week.

"It was an extremely scary experience," Mrs. McClellan recalled. "So many people were praying for us. We had people from our church who drove down to Memphis just to pray for us and then they turn around and go back home. I don't know what we would've done without them."

The experience really turned the family's lives around and stopped them right in their tracks, Mrs. McClellan said. Mrs. McClellan and Hannah lived in Memphis half of the time, while Hannah's father and two siblings lived in Sikeston.

Now that Hannah's health is taking a turn for the better, participating in fundraisers is one way the McClellan's are giving back to St. Jude.

"Even though Hannah's finished with her chemotherapy, we'd like to always be a part of St. Jude," Mrs. McClellan said.

Hannah just returned from Country Cares, a fundraiser that country artists and radio stations from all over the world participate in. Hannah was able to meet country artists, and she even gave a speech about her experience to those at the event.

Also a drawing Hannah made during one of her chemotherapy sessions was chosen for the 2003 St. Jude Wall calendar, which features artwork by St. Jude patients and is given to donors. Hannah's drawing is displayed during the month of April and is available nationwide.

And in December, the story of Hannah's diagnosis and condition were featured in St. Jude's national Christmas letter sent out by Marlo Thomas. St. Jude received nearly $4 million in donations as replies from the Christmas letter featuring Hannah's story.

Happy that she's doing better and that her story and artwork have been accessible nationwide, Hannah said she's learned a big lesson over the past year. A lesson not too many kids Hannah's age may know.

"It makes you appreciate the boring times," Hannah said. "And boring is good."

Mrs. McClellan agreed, saying she and her family appreciate life more. "It's a real dose of priorities," she said. "They say, 'Don't sweat the small stuff,' and it's so true. It's really important that you not focus on the less important things."

The McClellans realize stories like Hannah's don't always have a happy ending, but they said one can never give up hope.

Hannah knows that better than anyone. For those who are in the same boat as Hannah was a year ago at this time, she offers a little advice: "Take it one day at a time and always know that God's there with you no matter what happens."