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‘Freeze’ aims to help girl with cancer

Worry is a constant theme in the Rhodes/Terry household in Gantt as 17-year-old Caitlin Rhodes battles a rare form of cancer. However, thanks to generosity of one local organization, Rhodes and her family will soon have more time to concentrate on healing instead of worrying about how to pay the medical bills.

Cancer Freeze organizer Caleb Davidson announced Friday that Rhodes has been named as the fund-raiser’s 2010 recipient. This will be the fourth annual event for the Florala-based organization. Last year’s event raised more than $10,000 for Julie-Layton Bryan, a local 6-year-old battling retinoblastoma.

The money raised at this year’s event will help Rhodes battle glioma, a type of cancer that begins in the brain or spine. In Rhodes’ case, doctors located an inoperable tumor at the base of her brain in 2006.

“Caitie is a beautiful young lady,” Davidson said. “She’s a very determined, strong-willed girl who, despite her situation, rarely complains. She and her family are very deserving of being this year’s recipient.”

Rhodes’ aunt, Shelia “Tee” Terry, said the teen is in the end stages of a 14-month cycle of experimental treatment that includes two types of chemotherapy. Insurance covers some of the costs.

“Just some costs,” Terry said. “We have to travel back and forth to Birmingham every other week for treatment. There’s co-pays, gas, motel rooms, food and all sorts of costs to keep her here with us.

“For us, it’s about doing what we have to do to make sure that Caitie gets the treatment she needs,” she said.

Terry said she, her brother and Rhodes’ dad, Ronnie, and her mother, Betty, take turns looking after Rhodes, who has been out of school since December 2007.

“The thing about this cancer and the treatment is that it affects her memory,” she said. “Someone has to be with her 24 hours a day. We pretty much all try to keep working — me and my mom at Shaw and her dad at the City of Opp, so it’s difficult.”

Terry said at one point, before medication was prescribed, Rhodes’ memory deteriorated so much she would use a digital camera to take pictures during the day to remember what she had done.

“That was one of the low points,” Terry said.

Things are now looking up, she said. Before the beginning of this round of experimental treatment, doctors thought there was no other avenue available for Rhodes.

“They said this is it, this is all they can come up with,” she said.

The regimen is expensive — five pills every 23 days, which cost $3,800; and another type of chemotherapy treatment to the tune of $18,000 every other week.

“You have to fight with insurance because it’s experimental, but how do you put a price on someone’s life?” Terry said. “We’re going to find a way to pay for it no matter what. She’s responding well to this treatment.”

That’s why “Cancer Freeze is so important,” Davidson said.

“The money that is raised can go a long way in helping Caitie’s family — a long way,” he said.

Cancer Freeze will be held at noon Sat., Feb. 6, on Florala’s Lake Jackson. A minimum donation of $20 will buy the opportunity to ski, tube, wakeboard or kneeboard during the vent.

Hot refreshments in the form of chili, coffee and more will be available for donations.  There will also be raffle items that include autographed photos of George Jones, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill as well as many other items, Davidson said.

Plans are for Rhodes to accompany Davidson on at least one boat ride around the lake.

“That is if her blood count is good and she feels up to it,” Terry said. “Caitie’s one of those girls who doesn’t let (cancer) stop her. She is our hero. This child has been through so much — four brain surgeries, blood clots, radiation, chemotherapy — but to see her, you wouldn’t know she was sick.

“But you can’t worry about all that; she has to live her life like each day is the last,” Terry said.

To register for this year’s Cancer Freeze event or to make a donation, visit cancerfreeze.net or contact Caleb Davidson at 850-978-3726.