FAIRLAND, Oklahoma – “Grateful” and “grateful” are two words Katy and Billie Ellick use to describe their daughter’s life battling childhood cancer.
“Grateful,” said Katy Ellick, as 23-month-old Blakelynn is “the cancer patient” as she goes through neuroblastoma treatment at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. “Grateful,” she said, for the support the Miami family has received from the community since Blakelynn’s diagnosis in July.
As Thanksgiving approaches, the Ellicks will be celebrating the holiday with family, knowing that Blakelynn’s next big procedure — a bone marrow transplant using her own harvested healthy cells — is coming Tuesday.
“I’m really grateful,” Katy Ellick said. “We’re not cancer-free yet, but we’re a lot closer than we thought we would be.”
The couple met when Billie Ellick moved from Quapaw to Stroud to finish his junior and senior years in high school. They first became “really good friends” before dating. For the past six years, the couple married on June 22, 2019, and Blakelynn arrived a few months later on December 2.
After high school, the couple moved to Goodwell so Billie Ellick could play soccer for Oklahoma Panhandle State University. Katy Ellick jokes that Blakelynn spent the first year and a half of her life hanging out with the men who played soccer with her father and went to sporting events on campus.
The family moved to northeastern Oklahoma in June of this year, when Billie Ellick took a job as a history teacher and assistant offensive football coach at Fairland High School. Katy Ellick started working at the Quapaw Learning Center.
On July 2, Blakelynn had a series of routine vaccinations. Later that day, she danced at the powwow of the Peoria Tribe of Indians of Oklahoma.
The next day she started to feel lethargic. At first, health officials thought the reaction was due to the vaccinations. Her mother said doctors at Integris Miami Hospital were concerned it might be something else, and they arranged to send Blakelynn for further testing at the Children’s Hospital at St. Francis in Tulsa.
Doctors at St. Francis discovered a 5-inch tumor over Blakelynn’s kidneys, wrapped around blood vessels and arteries — almost like a tentacled octopus, as Katy Ellick described it.
Initially, St. Francis doctors planned to remove the tumor and one of Blakelynn’s kidneys. But after further deliberation, they decided the best course of action would be to send Blakelynn to St. Jude’s for further treatment, her mother said.
“The surgeon said this was something St. Jude needed to see,” Katy Ellick said.
She said St. Jude’s was the best place for Blakelynn to get treatment, along with a number of other things like music therapy and dog therapy. When Blakelynn isn’t hospitalized, the family stays rent-free at St. Jude’s Target House. During the football season this fall, Billie Ellick traveled to St. Jude’s on Saturday mornings, where he stayed until noon on Sunday before returning to Fairland for another week at school.
“It’s been tough for him,” Katy Ellick said of her husband’s first year teaching and coaching.
Katy Ellick’s mother, Davina McGee, has spent much of her time in Memphis with her daughter and granddaughter. Love and donations from others, including Billie Ellick’s former Oklahoma Panhandle State teammates, the Rodeo Miami team and the Fairland community, have also made a difference, she said.
Help has also arrived from across the state line. The Joplin Crusaders, Joplin’s adult amateur minor league soccer team, raised $7,000 at a charity game in Quapaw. Billie Ellick played for the team last summer along with his brother, Chayton. Their father, Shawn, also played for the team at one point.
After four rounds of chemotherapy, Blakelynn underwent surgery at St. Jude’s to remove the tumor. Katy Ellick said doctors were aiming to get 90% of the tumor, hoping that the latest round of chemo and radiation would complete the task.
Blakelynn would remain in the intensive care unit for several days after the surgery. Instead, she was only there for one day.
Because she was doing so well, the doctors gave the family the green light to attend Fairland’s last home football game of the season. Although she and her mother were isolated from the crowds, Blakelynn roamed the sidelines watching and cheering for the players her father now coaches.
Scans taken earlier this month indicate that most, if not all, of the tumor is gone. After undergoing the bone marrow transplant, Blakelynn’s next course of treatment will include radiation and immunotherapy. Because of the way she responded to treatment, she could finish treatment at St. Jude’s earlier than expected.