PRYOR, Okla. - Ashlyn Koons has her game face on.
She's deep in thought playing a card-matching game in the lobby of Jimmy Everest Center for Cancer, a place she has spent a lot of time for almost half of her lifetime.
This 6-year-old girl from Pryor is competitive, and has to be with nine siblings at home. They were all on hand last year when she rang the bell at Jimmy Everest, cheering and singing for her.
Ringing the bell signifies that you're not only cancer free, but finished with treatment.
Ashlyn had Wilm's tumor, a rare kidney cancer that had spread to her lungs and other internal organs before the lump on her side was discovered. Despite being categorized as having Stage 4 cancer, Ashlyn responded well to the treatment that shrank her tumors. She had one kidney surgically removed.
"Whammo! It was kind of like, here we go again,"said Goldie Koons as she recalls the scan results that came six months after Ashlyn rang the bell. "They said the tumors were back, and it wasn't just one or two tumors, it was quite a few lesions on her lungs, so it was considered a relapse."
Ashlyn's dad, Eric Koons, is a pastor at a Baptist church in Pryor. Eric says Ashlyn immediately grasped what relapse meant, and it was the hardest news he's ever delivered.
"I could tell by the way she hugged me and kissed me, and the look she gave me," he said. Eric says a motto jumped to mind at the news of the relapse. "It's always too early to give up."
"I'm guardedly optimistic is probably the safe way to say this. We're having some response, I wish the tumor was completely melting away. It's not, but at present time we're controlling the growth of the tumor," Ashlyn's doctor, William Meyers, said.
He says they tried to make it easier on this big family by coming up with a system to take chemo medications at home, but she found them hard to tolerate. But it turns out, healing is easier for Ashlyn at Jimmy Everest Cancer Center.
"She thrives here. I think when you have a team that doesn't give up, it makes it better. She won't say it to anybody but she loves everybody here," Goldie said.
The road now may not be neatly mapped out, but the Koons say they look instead for the blessings in each day.
"She's a fighter in every aspect of her life," says Goldie with a smile.
If you'd like to help kids like Ashlyn fight cancer, consider a donation to JECfriends.org.
Kids with Courage is sponsored by the Jimmy Everest Center.