POULSBO — On the surface, Carmen Garringer and Kallen Anderson seem like typical, active 8- and 9-year-old girls.
The Suquamish Elementary School third-graders like dance, gymnastics, jumping on the trampoline, science experiments, Harry Potter, and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Carmen was a 2012 Miss West Sound Little Sister; Kallen likes cheerleading.
But within those little-girl exteriors beat some big hearts.
The day Carmen, 8, checked into the hospital to begin treatment for extraosseous Ewing’s sarcoma, she conspired with nurses to throw a hospital-room birthday party for her mom, complete with banner and confetti.
When Kallen found out that her friend would lose her hair while undergoing treatment, she vowed that she, too, would shave her head. In fact, she let her pal Carmen do the cutting; her hair was donated to Locks of Love, which makes wigs for children undergoing cancer treatment. On the ferry home, Kallen told her mother, “Now that I’ve shaved my head, I feel I can do anything.”
Back at school the next day, Kallen got high fives from classmates. As of Thursday, four other people have shaved their heads in support: library technician Gail Petranek, third-graders Thomas Grant and Tyler Wilson, and first-grader Talon Grant.
Carmen’s life of late is filled with a lot of stories like these. Like the day she cartwheeled into her hospital room. And the day she got the idea to turn the floor of her hospital room into a giant game board. And the day she decided to go for a ride on her IV pole.
Community support is growing for the young cancer warrior as she undergoes nine four-week cycles of chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital. During treatment, Carmen and her mother, Jaci, stay at the home of “a friend of a friend of a friend” on Mercer Island. Carmen’s dad, Todd, and sister Leah, 5, join them on weekends.
Carmen received hundreds of Valentine’s Day cards this week; one boy included his $10 allowance. Gordon and Suquamish elementary schools are having coin drives for Caring for Carmen, a nonprofit set up to help defray the costs of her treatment. The Miss West Sound Scholarship Organization organized a Miracle Bowl fundraiser at All Star Lanes on Feb. 10.
Sorella Salon & Spa in Kirkland hosted a Locks of Love fundraiser Feb. 11; Jaci and friends Riley Burns and Chelsea Burgwin donated their locks. All told, 10 haircuts and one shaved head raised $1,500 in sponsorship donations for Caring for Carmen.
On Feb. 23 from 2–4 p.m., Zero Gravity is organizing a Family Day of Fun — two hours of open gym for $5 per person or $20 per family. Every dollar will be donated to Caring for Carmen. Bracelets will be available for donation too. Zero Gravity is located at 5686 NE Minder Road, Poulsbo.
March 2, Yo! G’s Frozen Yogurt celebrates Carmen’s birthday from 4-8 p.m. by donating 20 percent of all sales to Caring for Carmen. Yo! G’ s is located at 21505 Market Place NW, Poulsbo. March 9, a Zumba for Carmen fundraiser is planned 6-7:30 p.m. at the Suquamish Gym, 15838 Sandy Hook Road, Suquamish.
“I’m amazed the community can come together so quickly. My heart warms and sometimes I cry about it,” Jaci said. “It’s certainly changed my perspective on what I’ll do when I leave [the hospital], wanting to pay it forward.”
This hasn’t been, and is not, an easy road to travel.
Carmen was the first to notice the bump on her chest in early December, which an ultrasound determined was a marble-like cyst under the skin. The cyst was removed and turned out to be a malignant tumor. Extraosseous Ewing’s sarcoma is rare among children Carmen’s age — the median age is 20, according to the National Cancer Institute.
She had her first chemotherapy treatment Jan. 16.
“We have our moments when things aren’t so funny,” Jaci Garringer said. “I’m surprised how strong she is, how brave she’s been through the whole thing. She’s a kid with a lot of spirit. I don’t think I could handle it as gracefully [at her age].”
Carmen and her family are buoyed by the people following their story — the Caring for Carmen Facebook page had 3,371 likes as of Thursday morning — and the accompanying thoughts and prayers. Carmen likes to write, and she and her mom write separate blogs. “Blogging has been a good outlet,” Jaci said.
Kallen visits Carmen once a week.
“The night we told Kallen that Carmen was sick, the first thing she thought of was, is she going to lose her hair,” Kallen’s mom, Olivia Anderson, said. “She asked right away, ‘If she loses her hair, can I shave my head?’ She never wavered at all.”
Kallen knows only the basics of what her friend is going through. “She doesn’t understand all the ins and outs,” Olivia said. “She knows that when you have cancer, you take a medicine called chemo and she knows Carmen has to live in Seattle to be near the hospital.”
Of Carmen, she said, “She’s very brave. She’s very amazing. She’s kept a very positive attitude through whole thing.” Of her daughter’s shaved head, she said, “She is going to keep it shaved for a while. I’m going to let her decide when she’s ready to let it grow back out.”
Kallen said of the experience of shaving her head as a show of support for her friend, “It was kind of scary, but it was really fun at the same time.” Back at school, “At first I didn’t take [my hat] off. But when I did, my classmates thought it was really cool to see that happen.”
Asked what people can do to help her friend Carmen, Kallen said: Write letters. “And send money for Caring for Carmen.”