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Lyndsey Staub rests after receiving her nightly injection. [Times photo: Carrie Pratt]

Girl endures chemotherapy, needles in battle with cancer

Lyndsey Staub, 5, is halfway through 12 weeks of difficult therapy in her second battle with the disease. An Elfers business is hosting a fundraiser today to help the family.

By MICHELE MILLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 27, 1999


Lyndsey Staub may be just a kid, but she knows how to work a room.

Her clear blue eyes flash from sad to glad to mischievous. She can entice a visitor into playing a spirited game of patty-cake and melt hearts with the toothy grin she sports when a camera is aimed her way.

"Take another picture! Take another picture!"

At 5 years old, Lyndsey is a fighter. She has spent much of her life waging war against Wilms' tumor, a common form of kidney cancer that typically attacks kids between the ages of 4 and 6.

The initial diagnosis, in late August 1997 at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, came with surgery to remove her left kidney, which had been swallowed by a tumor the size of a football. Then came six months of treatment that included radiation and chemotherapy.

Lyndsey's histology was good and there was reason to expect a positive outcome, said Dr. Jerry Barbosa, chief of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at All Children's. A year of remission brought a sense of relaxation and plans for a party to celebrate a cure.

But a fever on April 28 this year meant a trip back to All Children's and the devastating news that the cancer had spread to Lyndsey's left lung.

Lyndsey is halfway through 12 weeks of intensive induction chemotherapy. Signs of remission will be followed by a lung biopsy. If those results show complete remission, there will be more radiation and chemotherapy followed by continued maintenance therapy. Partial remission means a bone marrow transplant.

Playing the waiting game is difficult, said Beth Staub, as she keeps the faith that her daughter will be all right. "I'm always sitting on the edge," she said. "We don't know what's coming next." She wrapped her arms around Lyndsey and said, "But it's got to be good news, right, Boogerbutt?"



Now Lyndsey smiled brightly, proud of the happy face she drew with a brown Betadine swab on the examining table'spaper covering. While they waited out the infusion, Beth Staub read to her daughter. The chairs in the room were filled with other bald children getting their chemo

This last round of chemo was especially tough. Lyndsey needed two transfusions and dropped 10 pounds in two months. Nourishment came from sips of Gatorade, soda and Pediacare pops. Still, her mother prepared her favorites -- macaroni and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs. "She says she'll try to eat," Staub said, "but then when you put it in front of her she says she can't."

To that Lyndsey responded, "I'm getting bigger. My legs are getting longer!"

"I know," said Mom, "but you have to eat more and fatten them up."

"I'll try."

The nightly shots of neupogen -- a growth stimulated hormone to bring Lyndsey's white count up so she can better fight infection -- are also a tough go. "She hates the needles, but she has to watch," said Staub, who must administer the shots at home for 10 days after chemo.

"I don't scream with all the needles," Lyndsey said. "I'm getting better."

Mom is worried -- dehydration isn't good for any child, but for Lyndsey, who only has one kidney, it can be especially troublesome. Staub tried to hide her concern, gently caressing her daughter's head and cracking a joke that sends them both into laughter.

"Geez, Lyndsey, you have like five hairs back here and you still manage to get a knot."



What starts out as a clinic visit could turn out to be a hospital stay, so she always comes prepared with an Elmo character backpack stuffed with clean clothes for Lyndsey. There's no sense worrying ahead of time because they might just get to go home, she said, and besides, that won't do Lyndsey any good

"I have to be the one who keeps smiling. I can't fall apart because Lyndsey is depending on me," she said. "So I make jokes and kid around. Then at night I lay awake and think about things."

It pains her that her daughter is missing out on her childhood.

"She wants to go to kindergarten so bad. Every day that bus stops right in front of the house and she's up in the window watching all the kids. Now she has to be home-schooled."

Then there are the consent forms -- the latest batch of treatments can cause kidney damage or death. "I went out to the garden at the hospital to read them over and just started bawling my eyes out," Staub said. "Sometimes I just can't read them, I get so depressed. But I have to let them do what they have to do to save her life."



In 1988 she hooked up with Tye Morris. The relationship didn't work out but produced a daughter, Amber, who is now 9 years old. "I was young -- 20 years old and wanted a baby," she said. She raised her daughter with the help of her parents, holding jobs as a waitress and spending some of her off time playing on a dart team that met at Shooters Liquor Lounge in Elfers

She married Barry Staub in July of 1993. Life was going to be grand after the simple ceremony that united the two and her daughter as a family. Beth's parents, Frederick and Jeanette Kosiorek, bought a two-bedroom home in Colonial Hills in Holiday with the agreement that the couple would pay the mortgage. She started taking classes at St. Petersburg Junior College. Lyndsey came along the following February, but the marriage soon failed, and Beth Staub was once again on her own.

Just a few weeks before Lyndsey's relapse, she left her job at Com-tel, and her Chevy Blazer was repossessed. She bought a 1981 Pontiac for $300. The car was rusted, with broken door handles and no air conditioning, and she put a towel over a hole in the back floorboard to keep the exhaust from seeping in. "It was affordable and I just thought I'd need it for getting around town and to work -- till I got back on my feet," she said. "I wasn't thinking that Lyndsey would relapse and I'd have to get her back and forth to the hospital in St. Pete."

Now there's no way Staub can even think of going back to work.

That's no surprise to Barbosa, who estimates that 40 percent of his patients are indigent. "We see a lot of misery in here," he said, shaking his head. Even though the cost of Lyndsey's treatment is picked up by Medipass, there are other related expenses.

When treatments become as intense as Lyndsey's, sacrifices must be made.

"You never know if you have to come to the hospital in the middle of the night," said Barbosa, adding that a fever of 101 usually lands his patients in the hospital for at least a three-day stay. "We walk a very thin line here. We have to be very careful with infection -- the number one killer here is not the disease but infection."

So now while Staub turns her total attention to her daughter's health, her income consists of $500 a month in Social Security payments for Lyndsey and the roughly $360 a month she gets in combined child support from her daughters' fathers.

Staub's mother, a licensed practical nurse, makes the frequent trips to the hospital so Lyndsey can have a comfortable ride and so she can help decipher the medical literature. She also fields the frantic late-night calls from her daughter.

"She can't be breathing in all that exhaust and she needs to be in air conditioning," says Mrs. Kosiorek, who also makes a weekly trek to the Shrine of St. Michael Taxiarchs on Hope Street in Tarpon Springs. There she lights a candle for her granddaughter and prays for a miracle. "I'm Baptist -- I'm not a Catholic or Greek Orthodox -- but I don't think that matters."

But there is hope and help out there.

Linda Walker, a social worker at All Children's, helped Staub obtain Social Security for her daughter. More recently she hooked Staub up with the National Children's Cancer Society -- a charitable organization that has agreed to pay rent and utility bills for the next two months.

Then there is Staub's boyfriend, Toy Davidson, an ironworker and father of two who is a big help. In the last six months they have blended their families, enjoying cookouts and camping trips to Jacksonville.

Last are the friends from Shooters, who are helping to host a chicken and pig roast benefit today. Staub said she chose Shooters for the site of the benefit -- a hole-in-the-wall bar on State Road 54 -- because she knew the people there would come out and support her.

The patrons have a history of taking care of their own, said Jeannette "Jet" Stepka, who manages and tends bar at Shooters and has helped to organize the event with Barbara Martinelli.

"We're hoping for a lot of donations," Stepka said. "But most of all we want Lyndsey to recover -- that's the main thing."


Lyndsey Staub, 5, is halfway through 12 weeks of difficult therapy in her second battle with the disease. An Elfers business is hosting a fundraiser today to help the family.

Benefit for Lyndsey today

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