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5K to raise funds for local girl with rare cancer

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Ansley Arnette, a seventh-grader at Twin Rivers Middle School, sits in the golf cart that will lead her out front of the 5K in her honor Saturday as Rob Goldsmith, the race coordinator, neighbor and family friend who came up with the idea stands next to her Tuesday. Ansley, 12, has been diagnosed with a diffuse infiltrating astrocytoma, a rare form of cancer that stretches across half of her brain. The 5K and fun run, dubbed "Scamper Against Cancer for Our Dancer" will be held at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville and will help Ansley's family cope with the mounting medical bills from her twice monthly chemotherapy treatments.

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Ansley Arnette, a seventh-grader at Twin Rivers Middle School, sits in the golf cart that will lead her out front of the 5K in her honor Saturday as Rob Goldsmith, the race coordinator, neighbor and family friend who came up with the idea stands next to her Tuesday. Ansley, 12, has been diagnosed with a diffuse infiltrating astrocytoma, a rare form of cancer that stretches across half of her brain. The 5K and fun run, dubbed "Scamper Against Cancer for Our Dancer" will be held at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville and will help Ansley's family cope with the mounting medical bills from her twice monthly chemotherapy treatments.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Ansley Arnette will lead the way around the Coolray Field parking lot Saturday morning, riding in a golf cart bedecked in boas and bearing a sign that reads "Driving Miss Ansley." Hundreds of competitors will hoe a tougher road behind her, running, jogging or otherwise struggling through a 5K on foot.

As the 12-year-old seventh-grader from Lawrenceville blazes the trail, she'll serve as a physical reminder of what the runners are there for.

Ansley was diagnosed with an extremely rare brain tumor last July, an inoperable one that covers the entire right side of her brain. Saturday's 5K dubbed "Scamper Against Cancer for Our Dancer" is in her honor.

The event is the brainchild of Rob Goldsmith, one of Ansley's neighbors in the Turtle Creek Meadows subdivision.

"I can't believe one little idea blew up just from the goodness of people," Goldsmith said this week. "Somebody plants a seed and other people have got to make it grow."

And grow it has.

What started out as a simple idea for a neighborhood race quickly evolved into a church parking lot. When sheer numbers made the event too large even for that, Goldsmith's "have not because you ask not" mentality came in handy.

The former youth pastor gave the Gwinnett Braves a ring, and the organization began "bending over backward" to make it happen.

At last count, more than 400 participants were registered.

Said Paige Arnette, Ansley's mom: "Rob's just gone above and beyond. Everybody has."

'Every last second'

Some nine months ago, Ansley Arnette was told she had a diffuse infiltrating astrocytoma. The diagnosis that reads more like a word jumble essentially means this: brain tumor, inoperable, two years of biweekly chemotherapy.

The slow-growing tumor has taken over the right side of Ansley's brain, with "fingers" extending into the left. Doctors told the Arnettes their daughter was just the third child to be diagnosed with this particular brand of tumor. Ever.

"It can't be removed, so basically when they kill it it's just going to stay in the shell," Paige Arnette said.

As she undergoes chemo treatments, the aggressively studious seventh-grader is homebound. Her mother picks up assignments from Twin Rivers Middle School, and a teacher stops by for some extra tutoring twice a week.

Otherwise isolated to her parents and younger sister, random visits, text messages and Facebook help keep Ansley in the loop with her friends.

"When I have the opportunity to see a friend, I use every last second," Ansley said. "I don't know when it's going to be when I get to see them again."

What hurts the most, though, is not dancing. Prior to her diagnosis, Ansley spent 16 hours a week at Sugarloaf Performing Arts, learning and practicing steps in several different forms of dance.

Because of frequent seizures and otherwise not feeling well, that's no longer an option. The studio recently sent out its yearly list of programs and audition dates, Ansley said.

"This is the first time in six or seven years that I didn't get one, because they know I definitely won't be able to (perform)," she said. "I cried for at least an hour."

Amid chemo treatments, doctors recently added a third drug to Ansley's anti-seizure cocktail. The episodes have gotten "smaller," and after a recent stretch where she experienced 25 seizures in eight days, they now come only once or twice a day, if at all.

Her last three MRIs have shown no new growth of the tumor, which leads doctors to believe that treatments have made it stable. If the two-year course of chemo doesn't successfully kill it, radiation will be used to attack the tumor.

"We don't know how long it's been there, but it's been a slow grower, which is a blessing," Paige Arnette said. "But it's got to go. It's got to go."

'Never would have dreamed'

The participants in Saturday's 5K will come from all over Georgia and the region. A few runners from Alabama are already registered, as well as one man from Lake Mary, Fla., a city outside of Orlando.

Many of the runners will be dear friends of the Arnettes. Others are complete strangers from cities like Monroe, Macon and Alpharetta.

Because of its success, the Arnettes plan to continue the race after Ansley is cured, sponsoring other local children in the fight of their lives.

"It spread like you had stepped on an ant pile," Paige Arnette said. "I never would have dreamed."

The goal with all of this, of course, is to help offset the extremely high costs of Ansley's fight against cancer. Chemotherapy treatments alone cost $12,000 each -- two years of biweekly visits will put the tab at about $624,000.

MRIs every month or two are $6,000 apiece.

Insurance, of course, will cover a majority of those fees. But a pretty penny will still rest on the Arnettes' collective shoulders.

Goldsmith's conservative estimate is that about $15,000 will be raised during Saturday's race.

"This is barely going to put a dent in it," Goldsmith said, "but it's something."

As sneakers pound asphalt around Coolray Field's parking lot and out onto nearby Tech Center Parkway, Ansley will be just up ahead, her 16-year-old friend Brad chauferring her about.

The otherwise bashful preteen has been thankful, if not completely surprised, when it comes to what's been a constant outpouring of support from the community over the last nine months. Saturday, though, will be a different feeling altogether.

"I really don't know (what I'll be feeling)," she said. "I'm grateful to have so many people, but I don't like being the center of attention."