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Eight-year-old inspires community giving

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

Rachel Raymond's long strands of thin brown hair blew wildly in the wind as she played at the neighborhood park. The afternoon was hot and she liked the feeling of the cool sand on her bare feet.

The 8-year-old and her mother, Rhonda Raymond, were taking advantage of the nice weather and of Rachel's 'good day" "“ a rarity since beginning her new round of chemotherapy treatments.

Rachel, a typical little girl who loves puppies, the color purple and playing with her friends, was diagnosed with Lymphoblast Lymphoma on Christmas Day 2005. Since then, she has spent most of her time in and out of the hospital enduring intense rounds of chemotherapy at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha instead of attending classes with the other second-graders at St. Patrick School in Elkhorn.

Although she misses going to school and participating in science class, Rachel is able to stay connected to her classmates and teachers through her new laptop computer and Web cam "“ both gifts from her school. The Web cam allows her to see and hear what's going on inside her classroom from her home or hospital bed. Her classmates and teacher can see her, too. Tami Kloewer, Rachel's assistant teacher, also tutors her twice a week.

'It's been great not having to worry about her schooling," Rhonda Raymond said.

Community support

The Elkhorn community and St. Patrick School have been very supportive of Rachel and her family. On April 6, the entire school day was devoted to Rachel. Fourteen students, two parents and two teachers donated 10 inches or more of their hair to Locks of Love, an organization that makes wigs out of human hair for cancer patients, like Rachel, who have lost their hair. And by the end of the day, nearly 100 people, including Principal Don Ridder, had donated blood through the school's blood drive.

'One of the most important things we wanted to do is to let Rachel and her family know that we are here to support her and pray for her with the full expectation to have her here with us as a third grader next fall," said Ridder, who coordinated the activities. 'We feel strongly that our school and community have grown closer and we are better as a result of Rachel's sickness."

The school also is raising money for the Lymphoma Society by selling bracelets in recognition of Rachel, who chose the words on the bracelets "“ Courage, Hope and Peace.

In an e-mail to a friend, Rachel explained why she selected those words.

'I chose Courage "“ Hope "“ Peace because I have lots of Courage when I have cancer. Hope because I have hoped everything is going to be all right. Peace because after I treat my cancer completely, I want to live the rest of my life in peace," she wrote.

Friends miss her

Rachel's best friends and classmates, Morgan Quinn and Meredith Faust, said they look forward to the day when Rachel is back with them at school. The three play together at recess and have a secret handshake.

'We miss her," Morgan said. 'She's fun to play with."

Rachel's doctors said they expect her to make a complete recovery and be cancer free once she has completed her year and a half of treatments, her mother said. But right now, one of Rachel's goals is to make her first Communion with the rest of her class in May.

'She is doing well if not better than expected," Rhonda Raymond said, attributing much of that to her daughter's strength and positive attitude.

'Rachel has been a real angel through this all and her attitude is excellent," said her father, Jim.

'She is very sharp and extremely strong spirited," Ridder added. 'I could never go through what she's going through. I don't think most kids could go through what she's going through."

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