It was March 3 and the LeBaron family was preparing to move to Aledo from Springtown.
The family — parents John and Ashley, and children Braylon (12), Makayla (9), Colton (2), and Liam (1) — had just gone out to celebrate the 13th birthday of the oldest sibling, Carter.
The following week, as the family was in the process of the move, Carter had trouble staying awake.
“If he sat still, for just even just a couple of minutes, he was falling asleep,” Ashley said. “He was falling asleep sitting up.”
In addition, Carter was not eating, something unusual for any 13-year-old boy. The concerned parents made plans for a doctor visit in the midst of their move.
Carter went to stay overnight at his grandmother’s house (Ashley’s mom), who called Ashley to say she felt a swollen lymph node on the back of Carter’s neck.
“Something just said ‘we've got to take him now — don’t wait,’” Ashley said. “I told my mom, ‘have him ready to go, I'm going to come get him.’”
Ashley took Carter to Cook Children's Urgent Care at Walsh Ranch, but was told they don’t do blood work there, so she took him to Texas Health in Willow Park.
“I explained everything that was going on, and asked them to test his blood,” Ashley said.”When the results came back, that's when the doctor came in and told us that he had cancer and we were transferred to Cook (Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth) later that night.”
Carter was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and his immediate admission was a result of his blood test.
“His white blood cell count and his potassium levels were so high, his oncologist was shocked that he did not have a stroke,” Ashley said.
Having moved to Aledo just a week before the diagnosis, Carter never even got enrolled in school, so he never had the chance to meet any of his new classmates. Ashley got the other siblings enrolled in Aledo ISD while Carter was in the hospital. Carter is receiving home-bound education and has a teacher who goes to the house four days a week.
In addition to the emotion the family was experiencing, it took a big financial hit on two fronts: the cost of the hospital — Carter was admitted for two-and-a-half weeks the first time, and more than a month shortly after — and loss of income, as one parent had to stay at the hospital with Carter while the other had to care for the four siblings at home.
John was only recently able to go back to work for a glass company in Weatherford, but Carter has another hospital admission scheduled in two months. Right now he is receiving chemo once a week, but in two months he will have to go in five days a week. Ashley said John was lucky to have found an understanding employer who is willing to work with him on the schedule.
Finances and scheduling aside, the emotion was a big hit to the family as well.
Carter had a difficult time at first coping with his situation, and the situation was hard on the siblings as well, missing Carter and only seeing their mom for a few hours every couple of days.
Anyone going through a situation like the LeBarons needs emotional support. Ashley said her mom provides some of that, and she is part of a social media group for cancer families. Still, living in a new community has its challenges in that department.
“I'm learning to reach out when I need to,” Ashley said. “I don't always.”
When the Thanksgiving Trot reached out to the family, Ashley said, being new to the community, she was not aware of the organization.
It almost didn’t happen, as the Thanksgiving Trot application mailed to the LeBaron home never arrived.
“And so at first I was just kind of like, ‘okay, well, no, nevermind, I guess we're just not gonna worry about it,’” Ashley said. “But then we asked about it later.”
The Thanksgiving Trot sent a new application, and chose the LeBaron family for its 2022 recipient.
“I can honestly say we never expected it, so we were completely shocked,” Ashley said. “I just want people to know how thankful we are and that, it's truly a blessing. We just want everybody to notice that we’re super grateful.”
Funds from the annual Thanksgiving Trot, set to begin at 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving, will help the family deal with the loss of income and medical expenses. But the biggest benefit of “The Trot” through the years is the realization of the recipients that there is large, caring community that is willing to reach out and show its support.
For more information, visit https://www.aledothanksgivingtrot.com/.
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