Anthem LemonAid: Meet lemon lover and ambassador Josie
Eleven-year-old Josie Economy loves lemons. She has dresses and shoes with lemons on them, she likes to drink lemonade, and yellow is one of her favorite colors. She also likes the taste of lemons – so when she was asked to eat one for an Anthem LemonAid lemon challenge, she happily agreed. And when she was invited to serve as the 2021 Anthem LemonAid ambassador, her mom, Jennifer, said “it was meant to be.”
This year’s Anthem LemonAid event will feature a combination of virtual and in-person options including three lemon-inspired, interactive challenges to benefit our ASK Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic. Scheduled for July 1-31, the 21st annual event has raised $1.6 million since it began. As ambassador, Josie will help promote the event, participate in virtual and in-person challenges and, she hopes, host a stand near her Bon Air home.
A born star
In addition to lemons, Josie loves art, dance and all things creative, including what she calls “really random make-up looks” such as stars and dots that look like freckles. She has wigs in every color; likes painting, drawing and sketching; and says tap and jazz dance are her favorites.
“Ever since she was little, my husband and I joked that she was like Pig Pen [from Peanuts] but with glitter,” Jennifer said. “If you wanted to find her, all you had to do was follow the trail of crayons, scissors, paste and glitter, and you could find her. She was glitter and happiness – and she still is.”
But on September 11, 2019, after months of struggling with pain when walking and sitting, Josie and her family’s happiness was tested when she was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare cancer of the bone and soft tissue. Josie was immediately admitted to our pediatric intensive care unit, where she spent the next 40 days. She also began receiving chemotherapy, which eventually involved five days of inpatient treatment and seven to 10 days at home before returning to the hospital for the next round. She continued chemotherapy treatments for a year, during which time she also received six weeks of radiation.
“I can’t say enough about the treatment that we received while we were there,” Jennifer said of the support the family received from our team members and through partnerships with organizations including Connor’s Heroes and the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation. “If Josie needed something, it appeared.”
Josie recalled the night she wasn’t feeling well after one of her chemotherapy treatments. A nurse came to her room to add saline to Josie’s port, and Josie noticed a Harry Potter item on the nurse’s badge.
“We talked for an hour about Harry Potter and Universal,” Josie said of the middle of the night conversation, “and it just made me a lot happier.”
“Josie really needed that distraction,” Jennifer continued. “The nurse took her time to spend with Josie.”
During Josie’s inpatient stays, Jennifer and her husband, Mark, alternated staying with Josie while the other parent stayed home with their son, Max. While they were able to sleep in Josie’s room on the pull-out bed provided for parents, Jennifer said they appreciated the RMHC rooms on the inpatient unit that provided a place for them to shower or recharge while remaining nearby in case Josie needed them.
Our child life team also provided welcome distractions including music, art and crafts during Josie’s inpatient stays.
“At CHoR, everyone bends over backward to accommodate your child and their illness,” Jennifer said. “They do little things you don’t realize you need until you need them.”
Josie’s last chemotherapy treatment was on Halloween 2020, and the next week she began receiving outpatient physical therapy at our Bon Air Therapy Center. The sessions, scheduled two to three times a week, focused on helping Josie walk and strengthen her muscles, which had become weak from chemotherapy drugs and more than a year of inactivity. A member of a local competitive dance team prior to her diagnosis, Josie looked forward to her physical therapy sessions because she was able to dance with her therapist – and get back to dancing around the house.
“Even if I didn’t get to dance I still think PT is a lot of fun because you get to play games,” said Josie, recalling a marathon Uno game during one of her visits.
In December 2020, Josie was declared cancer-free, but two months later, a follow-up chest CT identified new tumors on her lungs. She began receiving five days of outpatient chemotherapy every three weeks, and because the cancer was caught early, her prognosis is good. She also has more energy and has been able to resume homebound learning.
Josie said she’s excited to use some of her energy to promote LemonAid and “raise money for cancer awareness because that’s awesome.” She’s also looking forward to eating more lemons.
“When you see how funds are used, it changes how you think about an organization,” Jennifer said. “We’re so grateful these services exist.”
Read about Josie’s care during COVID-19.
Photos by Doug Buerlein (photos in yellow dress)