On Mother’s Day of 2022, Melissa and her then two-year-old daughter, Tallulah, tested positive for Covid-19. Nothing was the same after that diagnosis. Unfortunately, Tallulah never fully recovered and her mom continued to question why, weeks later, she wasn’t feeling better. Once a simple blood test revealed critically low platelet, red and white blood cell counts, Tallulah was rushed to the pediatric emergency room, where she and Melissa were dealt an unexpected blow: a diagnosis of B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
“We live in Powhatan, so by the time we arrived at VCU, Tallulah was unresponsive. I thought she died in her car seat, and I would never see my baby alive again,” Melissa remembers. “ I just wanted to rewind the clock and go back to the day before Mother’s Day, the day before our whole world changed.” An ER doctor confirmed that Tallulah was “nearly incompatible with life.” The hospitalization that followed marked the start of their difficult journey ahead.
"Immediately, we were greeted warmly by Katie Barber, ASK’s Child Life Specialist. Within minutes we felt like we were home, where people were going to love us, nurture us and help us through the most difficult situation we’d ever encountered.” - ASK mom Melissa
“I didn’t want to be in the ASK Childhood Cancer Clinic,” Melissa continues. “I didn’t want to be near the Children’s Hospital of Richmond, and, most of all, I didn’t want my baby to have cancer. But there we were, confused and terrified. Immediately, we were greeted warmly by Katie Barber, ASK’s Child Life Specialist. Within minutes we felt like we were home, where people were going to love us, nurture us and help us through the most difficult situation we’d ever encountered.”
A two-and-a-half-year regimen of treatments, chemotherapy, steroids, transfusions, infusions, and surgeries lay ahead. Tallulah has endured multiple hospital stays and surgeries – but through it all, she stayed resilient. A true fighter.
Thankfully, she is now entering her last year of chemo treatments and is celebrating by counting down the days on a chalkboard. Each day is represented with a one-of-a-kind drawing that Tallulah’s mom plans to turn into a book for family and friends. “God is so good,” Melissa says with appreciation. “We have gratitude not for cancer, but for this experience that has taught us to treasure every single day and love deeper.”
Alongside their faith, Melissa, Tallulah and family continue to find hope through ASK’s emotional and educational support services, as well as a community that fully embraces and understands them. This care goes beyond the clinical and the medical – it’s personal.
“We are so grateful to ASK for being our constant cheerleaders and advocates, and for providing so many opportunities for us to interact with other families. We learn and grow from one another, and those connections with people who truly understand what we’re experiencing have been vital to bringing a sense of normalcy to an abnormal situation. The sense of community that ASK fosters is unique,” Melissa explains. “Jon Longenecker, ASK Education Support Coordinator, helped us find a new preschool that was more accepting of Tallulah’s situation, and someone is always on hand to give us gift cards for gas and food, or just a much-needed hug. They are personally committed to all of the ASK families.”
“Tallulah is not only the happiest child that I know, but the most joyful person that I know,” Melissa exclaims, radiating with pride and love. A four-year-old dynamo, Tallulah infuses life with music, dance, and Sesame Street-inspired cakes. “Her cup runneth over,” she continues. “I think, on some level, she knows she’s living through a special time in her life and she’s determined to make the best of it. We’re going to celebrate every day of this journey.”