Less than a year ago, Hailey LeJeune was an ordinary sixth grade student at Westside Junior High in Walker, active in an after-school dance program and her church choir.
Then the pain began. Little did anyone expect the path she would soon find herself on to lead to the tough battle Hailey and her family find themselves in now.
“Hailey had been complaining of leg pain for several months,” her mother Dawn LeJeune said, so last summer, she began undergoing physical therapy, “treating her for tight muscles and growing pain.”
Her pain came and went, her mother said, continuing that toward the end of the summer, the physical therapist said they needed to go get her hip checked at an orthopedic doctor.
“I kind of put it off, instead fussing at her for not wearing proper shoes,” Dawn said, although she continued to take Hailey to physical therapy until school was to begin.
“Then the flood happened,” she said, and while the LeJeunes’ home didn’t flood, “everyone knows it messed everything up.”
When school finally did begin, the dreadful journey the family is traveling now began as well. Hailey’s mother remembers well the date it started, “Friday, Sept. 16, 2016.”
“That afternoon as she stepped on the school bus, her leg gave out and she fell,” Dawn said. “She was in tremendous pain.”
While her mother was originally planning to take Hailey to her family doctor the following Monday, “on Saturday, Sept. 17, I made the decision to take her to the emergency room in Walker.”
“They came in and did an X-ray and then came back in for a CT (computed tomography) scan,” Dawn said. “The doctor and nurses came in and told us Hailey had a lesion and they were going to transport her to Our Lady of the Lake (Regional Medical Center) in Baton Rouge.”
Computed tomography, often referred to as a CT or CAT scan, produces detailed cross-sectional images and are commonly used to detect cancer and infections.
“I had no idea of what we were facing,” Dawn said, so she made a few phone calls to family members and to their pastor at First Pentecostal Church of Denham Springs, the Rev. Ray Johnson.
“While we were waiting on the doctor and nurses to come back, I looked at the CT scan report,” Hailey’s mother said, but couldn’t make sense of it. She knew it had to be serious, though, because her daughter was admitted as a patient, apparently as a result of the CT scan results.
Dr. Jeffrey Deyo came to Hailey’s room late that night, Dawn said. “He showed us the tumor image on the scan and pointed it out to us on her hip.”
“It was located in her right pelvic area and it was the size of a grapefruit,” she said. “Dr. Deyo told us to prepare for the worst and told us he would be sending us to St. Jude Children’s Research Center in Memphis.”
Hailey was discharged from Our Lady of the Lake (OLOL) that Monday and she and Dawn packed for the trip to Memphis they would make Tuesday. “We drove up not knowing exactly what to expect,” Dawn said.
The remainder of that week was spent undergoing tests, more scans and seeing other doctors. Finally, over a week after Hailey and Dawn arrived at St. Jude, the bad news was delivered.
“The following Wednesday, Sept. 28, we received the official diagnosis of Ewing sarcoma bone cancer,” Dawn said, continuing Hailey received her first round of chemotherapy at St. Jude, then came back home to continue treatments in early October.
“We went back to St. Jude between Christmas and New Year’s for scans,” she said and was told Hailey’s tumor had been reduced from its original grapefruit size to that of a lemon and that the tumor had died in the center. Dawn emphasized her daughter’s battle is far from over.
“Surgery is not an option for Hailey because of the location of the tumor and it would be too risky,” she said, the surgery possibly causing her daughter to lose her leg.
The mother and daughter are now back in Memphis at St. Jude, having returned on Jan. 18 to start Hailey’s radiation treatments and continue her chemotherapy. Dawn said the radiation treatments will continue for eight weeks, Monday through Friday, for an hour each treatment.
Hailey will remain in Memphis for the duration of the radiation treatments, while her mother and her father, Bryan, are rotating weeks staying at the nearby Ronald McDonald House while their daughter is undergoing her treatments.
“We hope to return home at the end of March after Hailey finishes her radiation,” Dawn said. “She will continue chemotherapy for a few more months after getting back home.”
As overwhelming as this challenge may be for the LeJeune family, it is its faith in God and the support of its church membership that gives them strength.
“Our faith and trust in the Lord and our amazing church and church family and all their support is how we get through it,” Dawn said. “If we did not have these things, we could not do it.”
Friends, family and supporters can keep up with Hailey’s progress through her Facebook page, Team Hailey Bug.
Sarcoma type cancer can be found almost anywhere in the body, according to the National Cancer Institute, although about 50 percent occur in the extremities, or arms and legs, like in Hailey’s case, while about 40 percent occur in the back and chest.
About 12,000 new cases of soft tissue sarcoma will be diagnosed in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society.
While Ewing’s sarcoma is considered a type of bone sarcoma, one-third of all Ewing’s tumors develop in the soft tissues, the society reports.
Despite the intensity of the fight Hailey is in the midst of, her mother says she is looking forward to life returning to normal for her and she can continue dancing as a member of On Moving Dancing, a dance school in Walker, and singing in the choir at her church, both extracurricular activities Dawn says Hailey loves.
A pastalaya benefit for Hailey is set for Saturday, Mar. 4, beginning at 11 a.m. at Magnificent Monograms at 9788 Florida Blvd., Suite B, in Walker. There is no price set for dinners; donors are asked to give whatever they feel is appropriate to help the LeJeune family.
The Vieux-Doo Motorcycle Club is the driving force behind the benefit, having gotten involved because one of its members’ wives is a school bus driver as is Hailey’s mother.
A friend of one of the club’s officers, Dustin Stewart, said he was contacted by that member asking if the club “would be willing to get behind holding a fundraiser.”
Stewart said he knows many people see members of motorcycle clubs, or bikers, as “troublemakers,” but “the truth is, we’re respectable, hard-working and generous people.”
When given the chance to get involved, the members of Vieux-Doo jumped at the chance to help the LeJeune family. “We wanted to do anything we could to help,” Stewart said.
“I look at this situation and think how tough it would be and how would we get through it,” said Stewart, the father of two children himself. “I can’t imagine what I’d do if one of my kids had cancer.”
Since the motorcycle club has gotten involved, Hebert’s Specialty Meats has committed to donating the meat needed for the pastalaya and another motorcycle club, the Black Sheep Riding Club, will be providing the rest of the ingredients.
Tommy Comeaux is the Lifestyle editor at The Livingston Parish News. He can be reached via email at TommyComeaux@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, @tommycomeaux.