Community Voice


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Written in memory of our brave daughter, Katie Janae Cramer, who went to Heaven January 6, 2011.


As the butterfly alights on my arm in the dingy industrial city of Liuzhou, China, our hopes for our newly adopted daughter are high. Life in a Chinese orphanage has been perilous for her, her tiny body telling a story of deprivation through her bloated tummy, pale skin, weak muscle tone, and dry, sparse hair. But a butterfly will soon to emerge.

My husband and I return to Sacramento in May 1995, exhausted but elated at being home with our daughter. What was once only a tiny black-and-white picture is now an in-the-flesh baby dressed most often in pink. Already we see signs of her metamorphosis – she is smiling more, able to sit up on her own for short periods of time, and beginning to hold on to us.

Like most parents, we are enraptured with our new little one. Early concerns about her severe malnutrition quickly fade as she gains weight and strength. Thoughts of what she must have endured in the underfunded orphanage recede from our minds. We watch and are amazed as our daughter adjusts to her new surroundings. We wonder what the future holds for her.

Katie had the distinct role of being the first Chinese child in Sacramento adopted through Holt International Children’s Services and, from the beginning, served as a tangible promise for what many hopeful parents-in-waiting might expect. Referring to Katie’s status as Sacramento’s first Chinese adoptee, adoptive father Jeffrey Trapnell states, “Whether she knew it or not, she was a trailblazer for many more children to come, my daughter included.”

Life for our family settled into the normal joys and challenges of parenting and, eventually, we added two more wonderful children from China to our family: Anna, adopted from Hunan in 1999, and David, adopted from Jiangsu in 2002.

It was June 2006, and Katie was now a beautiful 12-year-old butterfly getting ready to stretch her wings and fly. The only problem was this delicate butterfly had a large, dark, unexplained bruise on the back of her leg, and was tired much of the time. A life-and-death battle would soon be underway as our family entered the terrifying world of childhood cancer.

One week after finishing elementary school, Katie was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia called acute myeloid leukemia (AML). We were devastated and in shock. We learned the standard protocol for treatment of AML would require her to be inpatient for most of the next six months. Katie bravely put away the things of childhood and, without tears, stoically entered into her second battle for survival – this time with cancer.

At Kaiser’s Morse Avenue hospital, Katie endured four rounds of intense chemotherapy. The chemotherapy robbed her not only of her shiny, black hair, but her entire immune system. In addition to nausea, lack of appetite, and isolation, there were trips to the ICU, numerous bone marrow biopsies, fungal infections, heart complications, and our constant underlying fear of relapse.

Isolated in the aging children’s wing of the Morse Avenue facility, we discovered we were not the only family on this terrifying journey – there were other families facing similar battles with their children.

“Our pediatric team sees approximately 35 new patients each year at Kaiser’s new Roseville facility,” states Dr. Kent Jolly, one of Katie’s pediatric oncologists. “Many of these patients are in treatment (needing chemotherapy) for two to three years, resulting in a caseload of approximately 70 patients per year.” Dr. Jolly adds that Sutter Children’s Center and UC Davis Children’s Hospital treat approximately the same number of children at their facilities each year.

Our daughter was one of these “statistics”. We know other families who have children who were one of the numbers below. Even so, I was shocked to hear and see these figures. According to the National Cancer Institute’s State Cancer Profiles, for the years 2004 – 2008, the annual incidence rate (per 100,000) and annual average counts for Childhood Cancers for Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, and Yolo Counties are as follows:

County Annual     Incidence Rate*    Average Annual Count
Sacramento            16.4                       50
Placer                     16.6                       11
Yolo                         15.7                       6
El Dorado                18.1                       6

* per 100,000

(all races, including Hispanic/both sexes/ages <15)

We decided not to focus on “survival rate statistics”, and to make the best of our difficult situation. Summer passed, as did the start of school, and then each of the winter holidays. We lived as a family divided, riding a roller coaster of emotions as the inevitable setbacks and crises came our way.

Throughout, we marveled at Katie’s ability to nonchalantly endure each challenge presented to her; deep inside, she seemed to possess a core of steel in her petite 80 pound frame. Had her first year in an overcrowded and understaffed orphanage toughened her, giving her the ability to courageously face such an ordeal?

January 2, 2007, we received the news we had hoped and prayed for. Katie was in complete remission and could go home! It was the best news we could have heard the beginning of that new year. Our first night home brought tears of indescribable relief and joy.

Though our innocence had been shattered, we continued to believe our daughter would be in the 50% category that would beat this disease. We would cling to the hope that this vicious monster had been defeated – once and for all! Nevertheless, we would hold our breath for the next three and a half years…


Continue to A Journey of Hope- Part 2

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