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Battle against cancer continues for local elementary school student

Sky Powell is bright and energetic.

The 7-year-old is like most second grade students who have begun the new school year at Dearing Elementary School.

Even though it's not noticeable from merely looking and talking with her, she's ill - battling cancer and taking chemotherapy every day. Doctors tell her mother and step-father, Sonya and Cecil Strong, that she may have to take the drug for up to two years.

It's all in an effort to shrink a tumor on the base of her brain - something that was detected when she was just 5.

"It never crossed my mind that she could have a brain tumor," said Mrs. Strong, an eighth grade math teacher at Thomson Middle School. "Doctors didn't even think she did at first."

Sky had been experiencing mild to moderate headaches. She then started complaining of pain in her neck.

"That's what started this whole process of going back and forth to doctors to see what was wrong," explained Mrs. Strong during an interview last Friday. "We knew something was wrong. We just didn't know what."

Immediately, Mrs. Strong took her daughter to Dr. Reginald Pilcher, a pediatrician at West Augusta Pediatrics.

"He's a very pro-active doctor," said Mrs. Strong. "So he ordered x-rays."

The results showed nothing abnormal.

When Sky returned to her home in south McDuffie County, she again began complaining of headaches and neck pain. By this time, Dr. Pilcher had arranged for Sky to see Dr. Patricia Hartlage, now retired as a neurologist.

The specialist ordered Sky to undergo a CT scan of the brain. The doctor earlier had indicated to Sky's mother that she didn't believe it was a brain tumor, because she would have been experiencing other symptoms.

An MRI was later done at University Hospital in Augusta, but the results of it weren't suppose to be back for a few days.

That same weekend, the family, including Sky's brother, Davin Powell, 11, a sixth grader at TMS, went shopping to buy school clothes in Commerce for the upcoming school year.

During that time, a doctor telephoned the Strong residence, indicating that Mrs. Strong needed to call the hospital when she returned home. After arriving back home, Mr. Strong, one of the assistant principals at Thomson High School, decided he would go to Wal-Mart and pick up a few grocery items that the family needed.

As he was doing so, Mrs. Strong was settling back from the trip. She later checked for telephone messages.

The message from the doctor who had called didn't say why, but instead to please call the hospital.

Mrs. Strong did as instructed. After reaching the doctor, he informed her that the MRI had detected a 3 centimeter by 3 centimeter mass on the base of her brain stem.

She was informed that 90 percent of the time, such a mass is indicative of a tumor.

"When he said that I just dropped to my knees and started crawling on the floor and praying," recalled Mrs. Strong. "All I could do at the time was call out to the Lord and say, 'Please Lord, please Lord, let by daughter be OK.'"

While shopping, Mr. Strong received a call on his cell phone from his sister, LaKeshia Strong, urging him to come home - that Sonja had learned something from the hospital about Sky. He left the items and immediately drove home - praying all the way.

"I just kept saying, God is in control," said Mr. Strong.

The couple embraced when he returned home and again prayed - this time together.

"Talking and living by faith is what we leaned on then and now," said Mrs. Strong. "We know as a family that everything is in God's hands. Truly, everything depends upon Him. We know that whatever God's will is - it shall be."

Sky has all the best doctors and all the best hopes, readily admit the couple.

They felt the same way when Sky underwent a 6 1/2-hour surgery to remove a brain tumor. The surgeon was Dr. Kimberly Bingamon. The first pathology report indicated that the tumor was benign - non-cancerous. Just two days later, though, the family learned that Sky's tumor was in fact cancerous - a rather highly aggressive form, said Mr. Strong.

Sky, who loves eating crab legs and other seafood, also has undergone laser beam treatments at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. She stayed there for eight weeks. Doctors now believe other tumors can be shrunk by Sky taking chemotherapy pills each day. She will have to take them for at least a year and possibly as long as two years, her parents said.

In the midst of Sky's medical ordeal, Mrs. Strong gave birth to another daughter, Chyra Strong, now 21/2. She and Sky "get along just great," said Mrs. Strong. "They play a lot together."

Mrs. Strong family and friends have been so supportive.

Sky, who loves singing and learning how to swim, said one of the best things about school is recess, "because I get to see all my friends and play with them."

Since Sky's illness, the family has been leaning on their strong faith to see them through all they've encountered thus far.

"We thank God that we still have Sky in our lives," said Mrs. Strong. "We also want to thank this community and all the other communities who have prayed and continue to pray for Sky and our family. Words just don't seem to be enough to say how much it means to us what everyone has done for her and our family."

She urges people to support the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life in McDuffie County and other counties.

"I just pray that people will support Relay For Life campaigns in their community," she added.

Web posted on Thursday, August 09, 2007

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