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Fighting Cancer is a Family Thing

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Sarah and son Addison
Photo Courtesy of Sarah Kleinhans

By Kayla Kimmett

Being a mother to a cancer patient is no easy task. It takes a special type of strength, not only in the mind and body, but also within the family. Life has changed dramatically for Sarah Kleinhans since she found out her 5-year-old son, Addison, had cancer. 

Kleinhans grew up in Rye Beach, New Hampshire. She was originally born in Korea and was adopted, becoming one of six children. Kleinhans is one of four adopted children in their family.

At the age of nine, she started dancing, especially at many summer theater events. Kleinhans was a professional model at the young age of 12 and officially signed her first contract with a modeling agency when she was 16. Some of the first modeling jobs Kleinhans had were fashion shows in malls and also performing in theaters. 

Kleinhans moved to Colorado after touring Europe and the United States to be close to her dance partner in 1991. The move to Colorado allowed her to transfer from her former college in New York, where she was studying acting, to the University of Colorado, Boulder. She later graduated from CU Boulder with a double major in sociology and communication.

Kleinhans was on her way back to New York to model when she met her current husband. She didn’t want to leave her home in Colorado and was just given another reason not to. They were together four years before they were married.

She didn’t give up her modeling career after their first child, Madelene, was born and even continued to model after Addison was born. She chose to end her career after her son was diagnosed with cancer.

When did your family first find out that Addison had cancer?

April 6,  2010, two days after Easter. Addison was complaining that his legs were exhausted which was strange for a 5 year old to say. On Easter, during an egg hunt, he told his sister that he was too tired to get all the eggs. He also developed a fever and intense jaw pain so that’s when I took him to his doctor. They did a blood test and called a few hours later saying I had to get him to Children’s Hospital immediately. They did a bone marrow test that showed 98 percent of his marrow was cancerous. We had to fight against Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

How did finding this out affect your family?

The first year was the hardest. I had to stop working the day he was diagnosed. I couldn’t travel; I couldn’t go to auditions because he had to have chemo every day for the next 38 months. I couldn’t leave him in day care places since his immune system would be compromised the entire time he was on chemo.

His sister suffered so much with this. She was left at home with strangers to babysit. All of us were tired, stressed out and trying to care for Addison. My heart was crushed to a level I can’t explain. You feel like you are in a nightmare and can’t wake up.

How do you feel about him not having to do chemo anymore after having to do it for the past three years?

It is actually really scary to think of him not being on it. That is what keeps the cancer away and kids can relapse when they stop chemo. The first two years off chemo are going to be the scariest because he is most likely to relapse in that time. When you relapse, your survival rate drops to 40 percent and you have to start all over with even harsher chemo. I am thrilled, though, to think he can get back to being a normal kid. We have to Clorox everything every night and Purell constantly. Right now he can’t have play dates over or go to birthday parties. Now what other people take for granted will be like a day at Disney for us.

Do you have any advice for other mothers who are helping their children fight cancer?

If you don’t ask for help, after a while, you won’t get help. So I tell people to ask for it. My friends didn’t know how to help but they wanted to. We have also found all the fun camps and organizations for cancer kids. It helps my kids find friends who are going through the same thing. Addison is a spokes person and ambassador for five different organizations. We feel like we can be a good voice for surviving cancer. We also have a Facebook page called Help Addison Kick this Thing. We want to raise awareness for pediatric cancer.

Do you think Addison’s positive outlook on his situation had helped you be positive as well through your journey?

Yes. We have seen people who don’t talk about cancer and they don’t do events or anything like that. We embrace it. It is part of our journey so why not make it fun. Addison has lost three years of normal life. It wouldn’t be fair to him if we spent it depressed and shut away from the world. The craziest thing is the day Addison said to me, ‘Mom, having cancer is a gift to me. It has changed my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I have met so many people, done things I wouldn’t have done otherwise and going to the hospital is fun!’

Kayla Kimmett

About Kayla Kimmett

Kayla Kimmett is a journalism student at Metropolitian State University of Denver.

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