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Get your gold on

Rian Anderson (bottom, right) and her parents, grandparents and sisters show their support for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by wearing special T-shirts. Anderson, 18, was diagnosed with a spinal cord tumor in 2005. - Rachel Brant/staff photo
Rian Anderson (bottom, right) and her parents, grandparents and sisters show their support for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by wearing special T-shirts. Anderson, 18, was diagnosed with a spinal cord tumor in 2005.
— image credit: Rachel Brant/staff photo

Last year during an extensive stay at Seattle Children’s Hospital, David and Melinda Smieja told their ailing daughter she could have anything she wanted.

“She said, ‘I want a puppy I can dress up,’” Melinda said.

Melinda cringed because she’s never been a small-dog person, but they gave in and bought Rian Anderson a maltese named Cadillac.

Anderson, 18, was diagnosed with a spinal cord tumor in 2005. Since then, the Seabeckian and 2008 Central Kitsap High School grad has been in and out of Seattle Children’s Hospital and local Group Health offices.

“Right now we’re definitely in ‘what if?’ mode, which sucks,” Melinda said. “If it (the tumor) does start to grow again, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.”

Anderson has been through surgery and radiation, but now it’s just a waiting game to see if and when the tumor will start growing again.

“At first, after her surgery she started getting better,” Melinda said. “She was a regular teenager.”

Anderson cannot feel 75 percent of her right side and is taking 14 different medications, including methadone and morphine.

“(The doctors) just hand me bottles. It’s all about comfort right now,” Melinda said. “She’s very weak, she’s very tired. She has good days and bad days.”

Melinda recently joined Team Unite, an online community dedicated to spreading awareness about pediatric cancer and raising funds for CureSearch National Childhood Cancer Foundation.

“We’re all in the same boat,” Melinda said of the 250 families involved with Team Unite. “We try to do things regular people can do to raise awareness and funds.”

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and Melinda said it’s time people unite and search for cures to the 24 types of pediatric cancer.

“The research for pediatric cancer sucks, it really does,” she said. “These are little kids. They’re 2 years old, they’re 11, 12 years old and they’re dying just because of money. That’s ridiculous. It’s time they looked around and started taking care of the kids.”

Melinda said everyone knows pink ribbons signify breast cancer, but no one knows gold ribbons are for pediatric cancer.

Fla-Vor-Ice recently put gold ribbons on its product packaging and Melinda said it’s a step in the right direction.

“I want people to see gold in September and know it’s for the kids,” she said.

Melinda said people can do a variety of things to support the fight against pediatric cancer. People can donate blood, wear gold, register to become a bone marrow donor or join Team Unite.

“I’ve just learned so many amazing things people do to help,” Melinda said.

She said people can raise money for childhood cancer research with just the click of a computer mouse. GoodSearch.com is a search engine where every time people use it to search the Internet, a penny is donated to the charity of their choice. People who designated CureSearch as their GoodSearch charity have raised $355 for the organization so far.

Anderson’s parents, grandparents and sisters are wearing T-shirts all month to show their support for pediatric cancer research and let everyone know September is an important month.

“We’re going to wear our shirts as much as we can just so everybody knows,” Melinda said.

One positive thing has come from Anderson’s time spent in doctors’ offices. The teenager decided she wants to become a nurse someday.

“She said she wanted to be able to help kids like her,” Melinda said.

For more information on raising funds and awareness about pediatric cancer, visit Team Unite’s Web site at www.teamunite.net.

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