Sarah Brooks, 1, plays with her father, Joe Brooks, and brother, J.B. Brooks, as her mother, Kenyatta Brooks, and brother, Jordan Brooks, look on during a chemotherapy treatment at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore Aug. 19. Sarah was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma this summer.
Sarah Brooks, 1, plays with her father, Joe Brooks, and brother, J.B. Brooks, as her mother, Kenyatta Brooks, and brother, Jordan Brooks, look on during a chemotherapy treatment at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore Aug. 19. Sarah was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma this summer. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

The muffled cries of a mother slipped through the closed door of a Taneytown library conference room in mid-July.
Minutes before, Kenyatta Brooks' cell had vibrated. She looked at the phone, showed Stephanie Moore the number and shuffled out the door.
"That's [Johns] Hopkins, that number," Moore said, still seated at the library table. "I know that number very well."
Every time Moore saw Johns Hopkins' number flash across her own phone's display, she'd gasp, fumble for her cell and then pick it up, aware of the potential gravity of the caller's news.
While Brooks was on the phone, Moore continued with the story of her son's bout with cancer. It's the same cancer Brooks' 1-year-old daughter Sarah was recently diagnosed with, and it's the reason the two connected via friends and Facebook.
In March 2009, Moore and her husband discovered a lump on her then-3-year-old son Tanner's back. They thought it was just a bruise any active toddler would sustain just from being a kid, and Moore, of Littlestown, Pa., burst into tears when she first heard the lump was cancerous.
Her son had surgery to remove the tumor that was rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer composed of cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles. Surgeons take out the tumor and test the margins around it to make sure all the cancerous tissue has been removed, but there's no way to know until post-procedure tests are performed.
"And that's the call she is on right now," Moore, formerly of Taneytown, said of Brooks, who was standing in the library's hallway waiting to hear if her young daughter was cancer-free.
Moore, though, doesn't have to deal with the frightening calls anymore. Her son Tanner has been in remission for more than three years.
A few minutes later, Brooks cracked open the door, said "thank you" to the caller and walked back into the conference room.
"They got it," she said, her voice quivering.
Moore smiled wide.
"They got it all?" she said. "Oh, good!"
They hugged. Brooks sniffled. Moore broke the brief silence.
"Aw, are you OK?"
"I'm OK. It's a happy cry."
"Yes, it is," Moore said, united with Brooks in a moment only two mothers who have glimpsed their child's mortality could understand. "I'm glad it's a happy cry. You can go home and hug her - hug her and don't let her go."

Brooks and Moore had never met until that sticky July afternoon inside the Taneytown library. They exchanged hugs like long-lost friends, like two women who could feel the weight of each other's worry.
They dove into their stories, which began differently but connected at the diagnosis. When Moore learned her son had cancer, she was shell-shocked. But Brooks was almost relieved that at least now the source of her daughter's health problems could be treated.
Because for weeks, Brooks knew something wasn't right. Sarah had low-grade fevers and what appeared to the untrained eye to be a diaper rash. For weeks, doctors waved her worries away, Brooks said, flipping through a three-ring binder containing Sarah's medical records.
But she worried. She began to surf the web for a diagnosis, eventually finding a page that convinced her that her daughter had rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer only about 350 people, mostly children, are diagnosed with each year, according to Dr. David Loeb, director of the musculoskeletal tumor program at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
"That's why people have trouble getting a diagnosis," Loeb, who worked on Sarah's case, said, "because if something happens that rarely, that means lots of pediatricians that she might take her child to might have never seen it before."
A few days after researching the cancer, Brooks picked Sarah up from daycare on June 25. The rash was back.
"Lord, I need some help," she thought. "I'm literally at my wit's end."
After her husband Joseph Brooks Sr. was home and her two sons were asleep, mother and daughter made a trip to the Johns Hopkins emergency room.
"And when I got there, I'll be damned," Brooks said. "They believed me."
Later that morning, Sarah was unofficially diagnosed with cancer, which was confirmed as embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma on July 1, the first day of sarcoma awareness month.
Oncologists don't completely understand how the disease forms, Loeb said. It typically spawns from cells that don't develop the way they should, and embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma tends to be a relatively painless, slow-growing mass. But it tends to grow more slowly than alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, what Moore's son had, which is typically seen in older children and teenagers, according to the American Cancer Society.
On July 3, Sarah underwent surgery to remove the tumor, but the doctors weren't able to remove all the cancerous tissue. Nine days later, the almost 15-month-old had surgery again, and her mother learned that the doctors had removed the rest of the tumor several days later while at the Taneytown library with Moore.
Rhabdomyosarcoma has a high cure rate, combining surgery with chemotherapy to produce a good prognosis, said Loeb, who is also a Johns Hopkins associate professor of oncology and pediatrics.
"For a kid like Sarah," he said, "we're pretty sure we're going to be able to cure this for her."
The next battle for the Brooks family: roughly 45 weeks of chemotherapy.


Sarah sat on an oversized plastic chair, a stethoscope around her neck. Her sparkly sandals barely reached the end of the chair.
The chair was a familiar one, as was the playroom and patient rooms she was shuffled to throughout the four-hour afternoon at Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Every Monday, Brooks, her husband Joe or, on occasion, a relative or friend, bring Sarah to the pediatric oncology unit for her weekly chemotherapy treatment. Once every third week, she stays overnight and then has to come back again that Wednesday for an injection.
At an August outpatient appointment, Brooks arrived at a quarter past 1 p.m. She signed Sarah in, and began playing the waiting game:
Waiting for the nurse to call Sarah's name. Waiting for her blood to be drawn. Waiting for the lab results, which show Sarah's 2-foot-8-inch body is strong enough for the treatment, to come back. Waiting for the doctors to perform a quick check-up. Waiting for the 15-minute chemotherapy session to begin.
A few minutes after the waiting game began, a nurse outfitted in green scrubs called for Sarah, and motioned mother and daughter into the first room of the day.
Chante Ferguson, a clinical technician, wrapped a hospital bracelet around Sarah's ankle. The 16-month-old looked back at Ferguson, tears beginning to well in her big, brown eyes, her lips quivering just a touch.
"This is the easy part," Ferguson said soothingly.
And it was, relatively. Ferguson checked Sarah's temperature, then measured her height and weight.
"Yay, we gained some weight!" Brooks said, clapping as the number on the scale read 28 pounds.
"We're going to keep eating those candy bars," Brooks added.
The initial screening complete, mother and daughter wandered back into the waiting room. The nurses handed Sarah a teddy bear that she left at the pediatric oncology unit the week before. And then they sat back down and waited.

Brooks tensed up as a nurse with colorful scrubs and a black do-rag wrapped around his head walked toward her and Sarah.
Mitch Wilson wasn't the nurse usually assigned to Sarah, and Brooks knew this would affect her daughter. With Sarah in her arms, Brooks followed Wilson back into a patient room, and sat down on a chair.
Sarah braced herself, sitting on her mother's lap. Brooks braced herself. Sarah started crying before the poking and prodding began.
"You haven't even touched her," Brooks said.
"I always bring out the best in women," Wilson joked.
Brooks held her daughter tight, bouncing her gently in an attempt to calm the shrieks. Brooks' nose turned red. Her eyes watered.
Wilson used a needle to access a device underneath the 16-month-old's skin. Sarah screamed. Wilson drew blood. Sarah screamed.
Outside, the nurses' mumbles were audible: "Is that Sarah?" they asked.


Mother and daughter bee-lined for a room filled with toys and with the message "Imagine and Play" written on the wall in curly green lettering.
There was just enough time for Sarah to place multicolored blocks in a small shopping cart and for Brooks to blow bubbles that Sarah attempted to poke with her nose. Others landed on her bald head, which just weeks ago held locks of dark curly hair.
"Who doesn't like bubbles?" Brooks cooed. "Everybody likes bubbles."
Soon after, Brooks and Sarah were whisked into an exam room with Tom Killmond, a physician's assistant.
They were quickly interrupted, as Sarah's two brothers scurried into the room, peppering their sister with hugs and kisses.
"Did you put hand sanitizer on?" Kenyatta Brooks asked.
J.B. Brooks, 10, gave Sarah kisses again, and Jordan, 8, hugged her as he said, "We missed you."
J.B. grabbed a container of bubbles and began blowing them into his sister's face, as Sarah giggled. Then, in walked their father, Joe Brooks, and Kenyatta repeated her mantra of "hand sanitizer, hand sanitizer."
Then she smiled. "I actually missed you jokers," she said.
The Brooks boys had taken a week of vacation - a short summer reprieve to maintain some sense of normalcy for the kids - and had driven straight to Johns Hopkins Children's Center on their way home from Virginia.
Sarah's diagnosis has been rough on her sons, Kenyatta Brooks said. They're just kids, but they understand.
J.B. and Jordan headed to the playroom to use its paper, markers and other crafts to make a present for their sister. Joe fed Sarah a bottle and looked at his daughter.
"Stressful day," he said, and touched her cheek. "I'm sorry."
When he first found out his daughter had cancer, it felt like his heart had exploded in his chest.
"Sometimes coming down here, you're OK with it," Joe Brooks said. "And some days, it's like the first day all over again."


J.B. and Jordan bounded back into the exam room, transforming the space into a small dance party. Sarah squealed as she bobbed her head and twisted her tiny body to "Old MacDonald had a Farm."
Mitch Wilson, the nurse, walked inside and told the group that the lab results were back. Sarah's body was strong enough for this week's chemotherapy treatment.
Killmond, the physician's assistant, walked inside with a different announcement: Sarah was running low on platelets and would need them transfused into her body.
"Can you get back tomorrow?" Killmond asked.
It would mean another hour drive from Carroll County to Baltimore. But that didn't matter. Joe and Kenyatta Brooks automatically nodded their heads, "yes." They'd schedule the visit for one day that week.
Shortly after, Wilson hooked up the tubing for the chemotherapy treatment to a port underneath Sarah's skin in her chest. It's a silicon-based tube with a catheter that, when hooked up to more tubes, allows the medicine to seep into her bloodstream. Because of Sarah's young age and small stature, it only takes about two minutes to administer Sarah her weekly dose of chemotherapy. After that, a flush is sent through the tube. In total, the treatment takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
Sarah rested on her father's shoulder as he gingerly kissed her bald head. Then she began to dance to children's music blaring from one of her toys. She looked at her mother and smiled.
"These little ones," Wilson said as the chemotherapy session ended. "They crawl into your heart."

Sitting on a Westminster football field's sidelines, a group of three women sometimes use their sons' practices to tie knots in thick yellow string to form a paracord bracelet. The effort is spearheaded by Kenyatta Brooks' friend Dawn Randazzo, and the mothers are from her son's football team. They only use yellow string, the color of sarcoma awareness.
The bracelets are being sold for $7 in addition to beaded bracelets Randazzo, her children and others are making that go for $15 and both can be found at Pure Image Hair and Nail Studio in Westminster. The money is going to help offset the sky-high cost of Sarah's medical bills.
In addition, a PNC bank account has been created and a fund under the Community Foundation of Carroll County called Sarah's Kisses has been set up for the Brooks family.
That's because the medical bills total thousands and thousands of dollars - a total amount Kenyatta Brooks can't yet peg down and doesn't like to think about.
The cost of cancer is more than surgery and chemotherapy treatments, as parking gas mileage, and hospital food and drink quickly rack up.
"And that's what's worrying me," said Randazzo, who has known Brooks for about eight years. "And if it's worrying me, it's got to be worrying them. So hopefully, I can take some of that worry and resolve some of those issues so they can concentrate on Sarah."
Randazzo, of Westminster, previously took care of cancer patients at Carroll Hospital Center's oncology unit. She and Kenyatta have grown close, and Randazzo is organizing a fundraiser at The Greene Turtle in Westminster from 11 a.m. to midnight on Nov. 12 to consist of raffles, an auction, a DJ and more. The eatery will donate 10 percent of the day's sales to the PNC bank account and Sarah's Kisses.
Every day - multiple times a day - Brooks and Randazzo chat on the phone. They discuss Sarah, the fundraiser, cancer and how to help other families living a similar story.
Because when a child is diagnosed with cancer, it's much different than when an adult is, said Dr. Teresa York, the University of Maryland Children's Hospital interim division head of pediatric oncology and hematology.
"There's this whole caveat to pediatrics where they really have to rely on parents, and it interrupts their life," she said. "They have to come to the doctors several times a week, sometimes several times a month. Sometimes, they get admitted in the middle of the night."
The Brooks are familiar with those unexpected visits to Johns Hopkins, which are largely attributed to chemotherapy's effects on Sarah's small body. There are the platelet, blood and antibody transfusions she sometimes needs. There was the time she was severely close to liver failure and spent the week inside the hospital.
Some days, Sarah's a bundle of energy - smiling and blowing kisses. But other times, she's fatigued and nauseated. If Kenyatta or Joe Brooks aren't making the two-hour round trip to Johns Hopkins, one of them is typically at home caring for their daughter.
The support within their network of friends and family has been overwhelming. They'll oftentimes lend a hand, and Kenyatta Brooks lets them, which her independent nature wouldn't have allowed pre-diagnosis.
"I'm telling you, when you have a sick child, and they're looking at you, and they need you," Brooks said, "you have no choice but to ask. You're forced to humility; you're forced to humble yourself. You are forced for the love of your kid."
Because somehow, the parents of children with cancer still need to have a steady flow of income in order to pay the price tag of mounting medical bills, York said.
When this is all over, when Sarah is in remission, Brooks and Randazzo hope to start a local sarcoma foundation to help other families and raise awareness of the disease. They aim to start a sibling support group - a place for those witnessing their brother or sister battle cancer can go to talk. The children might have questions they don't want to ask in fear of upsetting their parents.
"What happens if it doesn't work? What happens if they get sick? What is going to happen?" .Randazzo said. "Sometimes children might not feel like they can open up and ask their questions."
Sarah's diagnosis has been hard on her two brothers, Brooks said. They need to be more cautious when they play with her, and they're anxious about her health. They're getting support in school and at Johns Hopkins to help them deal with their sister's disease.
"I hate cancer," they often say.
But the family is coping in their own way. After Sarah's failing liver had recovered, Joe Brooks took a break. Kenyatta Brooks will sometimes ask a friend for a helping hand.
"I've had my moments where I feel stuck, and I can't move forward and get things done," she said. "It's a lot mentally to process - it's a whole lot for one person. I stay in prayer, I have a great support group, my church family - they're great people. It's really hard to say, just do what you gotta do. I always say, you just roll with the punches. You better bob and weave and just stay out of the way."


On a cloudy Saturday morning in September, Kenyatta and Joe Brooks maneuvered Sarah's stroller down to the football field, where their younger son, Jordan, was playing a game and their older son would do the same later that day.
J.B. Brooks, who was playing catch with some friends, spotted his little sister. He sat down on the grass with Sarah, who was bundled in cheetah footie pajamas and a warm flower hat, in his arms.
Kenyatta sported a green and yellow Wildcats jersey in support of her son Jordan, who was running up and down the Westminster field. Joe Brooks copied her, pulling the same jersey over his head.
Both parents watched Jordan play, only the second time this season Kenyatta and Sarah have been able to make it to a game.
The Brooks parents clapped and cheered as the score climbed in their son's team's favor. They turned around to watch J.B. holding his sister. He picked her up and walked closer to his parents, who snapped a photo of the two.
Brother and sister smiling. Parents spending a Saturday morning with their three children far away from the hospital's walls.