Church rallies spirit and money to fight 5-year-old Sara’s cancer

jmonk@thestate.comJanuary 12, 2014 

— Sara Duncan is 5 years old, loves horses, cheerleaders, music and the color purple.

She also has neuroblastoma, a rare and potentially fatal childhood cancer. In the United States, there are only 400 to 600 cases a year.

And Sunday night, several hundred people showed up at a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at Sara’s church, the 1,100-member Trinity United Methodist, in Blythewood to offer prayers and well wishes. The event raised some $4,000.

One supporter was Trinity member Jackson Davis, 11, who wrote these words with a purple felt-tipped pen Sunday on a board crowded with prayers and good wishes: “Love you, get well soon.”

Many people wore logos with a purple dancing lion, a logo church member Kathy Rhodes designed in tribute to Sara’s favorite song, “Roar,” an anthem to courage by pop singer Katy Perry. It’s about a fearful young woman who became brave.

“I got the eye of a tiger / Dancing through a fire. ... You’re going to hear me roar,” the song goes.

Sara’s mom, Michelle Duncan, 37, a church member, said in an interview that so far, Sara is making progress. “We’re thankful we live in a community with such great support between the church, the neighborhood and the Blythewood community coming together to help us out.”

The money will come in handy for expenses insurance doesn’t cover, she said.

Already, Sara – the youngest of three children – has endured a medical odyssey most adults will never see. It has included a major operation to remove an abdominal solid-mass tumor, rounds of chemotherapy, stem-cell extractions and implants from and into her body.

Radiation therapy, and weeks more in the hospital, are most likely in the future. She’s been a regular both at Palmetto Health Richland Children’s Hospital and the Medical University of South Carolina.

The Duncans – Michelle and her husband, David, of 17 years – are thankful the neuroblastoma was discovered early. “In September, she had a little bellyache,” said Michelle Duncan, explaining that Sara’s regular pediatrician at Palmetto Pediatrics made the diagnosis on the first visit.

“We feel that God has a path for us, for healing, and He’s been really good to us so far. He’s put the right doctors in place, the right medical team in place,” Duncan said, wiping away tears as she spoke outside the fund-raiser.

Sara knows what is happening, Duncan said. “Her faith is great. She has prayed for healing, and she knows that God is going to heal her. She’s a fighter. She doesn’t complain. She doesn’t like needles, but I don’t know who does.”

Trinity pastor the Rev. Cathy Jamieson-Ogg described Sara this way: “She is happy and brave.”

Also at Sunday’s event were seven cheerleaders from the University of South Carolina. Last summer, before her cancer was discovered, Sara – a Gamecocks fan – attended a three-day cheerleader “kid camp” at USC.

“Clearly, we made an impact on Sara, which is awesome,” said cheerleader Greg Francendese, 22, a senior advertising major from Atlanta.

Cheerleaders are in the business of keeping spirits up, and fellow cheerleader Kristyn Ternberg, 20, a sophomore from Greenville, said the message for Sara is to stay positive. “You just have to make sure that no matter what happens, you keep pushing through it,” she said.

The baked-goods tables, piled high with cookies, cakes and pies, stayed busy Sunday night.

Many people bought just a few things, paid for them with a $10 bill and said keep the change, one volunteer said.

“It’s a good cause and a wonderful family,” said Delores Snellgrove, a 13-year church member who baked a strawberry cake that fetched $90 at a silent auction for the Duncans. “Everyone here feels so good about this family.”

Anyone wanting to donate can mail a check made out to Trinity UMC with “For Sara Duncan” on the message line to: Trinity United Methodist Church, P.O. Box 864, Blythewood, SC 29016.

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