By Brandon Hurley
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the Sept. 9 issue of the Jefferson. Since then, the piece has been edited to reflect a few inaccuracies.
Avril Shahan’s most devastating weapon is the strength of her community.
Combined with a riveting rallying cry, the warrior has Greene County’s full support, loaded and ready to pounce.
Much of the local population has united behind the seven year old’s continued fight, hoping to guide her through another dreaded battle with cancer.
Shahan returned as honorary captain during Greene County’s annual Childhood Cancer Awareness night Sept. 3 in Jefferson. The youngster, surrounded by four Ram football players, quietly walked out to midfield prior to the game against Perry, confidently handing the ball to the referee.
Shahan made her first midfield appearance two years ago as kid captain during her initial battle with lymphoblastic leukemia, a fight she believed she had defeated in October of 2019 after completing a two-year cycle of chemotherapy. The one-time cancer survivor was originally diagnosed with Leukemia four years ago this August, living free of the suffocating chains of chemotherapy for the last two years.
Shahan was initially diagnosed with B-Cell lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) on Aug. 28, 2017. Her devastating hospital visit was immediately met with an emergency blood and platelet transfusions, which began a grueling, two-year stretch.
ALL is an aggressive form of leukemia, fatal within a few months if not treated.
In a stunning turn of events, doctors rediscovered the cancer cells this summer. A relapse of this kind is extremely rare. Test results in mid-August originally revealed a blood mutation known as TML (Tumor mutation load), which cannot be treated with chemo, and often leads to continued relapse.
Shahan is currently in the midst of a 28-day continuous immunotherapy, which requires her to visit the clinic twice a week for progress updates. The chance of never eradicating the mutation is high. Even if she did go through with another two-year cycle, the mutation could flare up again, creating a never-ending loop of suffering. Leukemia impacts the blood, which is why Shahan and her family have recently begun searching for a bone marrow transplant.
Following the nearly month-long treatment she will endure a second spinal tap in addition to a bone marrow test, which should indicate whether or not the immunotherapy rid Avril's blood of leukemia cells.
Doctors are unsure whether Avril will still require a bone marrow transplant or if the immunotherapy will eradicate the disease. Unfortunately, neither of Avril's two siblings are a match for a bone marrow transplant, which will force her to join the transplant registry.
If doctors decide Avril needs a bone marrow transplant, she’ll begin a 100-day process to ready her body for the procedure. If all goes according to plan and Avril’s doctors find a transplant match, the youngster could be cancer free in the spring. Supporters can visit bethmatch.org to become a potential donor for others in similar situations to Avril.
The community reception of Avril’s unfortunate brave bout second bout with cancer has been rather eye-opening.
ShineOn Designs, located on the Jefferson square, is selling gold, “Their fight is my fight” T-shirts in recognition of Childhood Cancer Awareness month. The locally-owned business also created and sold “Avril’s Army” shirts with the adorning phrase “I still got a lot of FIGHT left in me!” on the backside. Ten dollars from each shirt were donated to the Shahan family as they help Avril take on the baddest opponent of all. The orange-colored shirt is an ode to the Leukemia ribbon while the “Avril’s Army” text is written in her favorite color, purple. The shirt also depicts a silhouette of a sheep, one of Avril’s beloved activities, showing sheep at local county and state fairs.
Avril’s Army necklaces are on sale at various locations while fans and supporters were encouraged to donate Play-Doh prior to last Friday’s game, which led to a 63-0 shutout of Perry.
Every Greene County cheerleader donned the gold shirts during the game while each member of the coaching staff also wore the specific attire in support.
What transpired was a celebration of togetherness, in honor of a brave young soul who is determined to win, proving she can outlast any foe.