Students and staff at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School sported orange clothing on March 24 to remember the daughter of seventh-grade reading teacher Camille Butler during National Kidney Cancer Awareness Month.
This is the second year the school has raised awareness for kidney cancer. The effort was started by soccer coach Phillip Grant and athletic director John Lakshmanan after hearing that Butler's 13-year-old daughter, Journey, succumbed to a rare form of cancer from the sickle cell trait in July. In addition to wearing orange, all participants donated $1.
Butler said more than 200 students wore orange and raised nearly $400 last Friday, which will go to the family's nonprofit organization, the Journey to Happiness Movement, to educate communities about the sickle cell trait.
Journey was a middle school student and cheerleader at Thomas Pullen School in Landover, Butler said, and was well known at Eisenhower Middle during her frequent visits to see her mother. In February 2016, Journey was diagnosed with renal medullary carcinoma after doctors found three large masses on her kidney, liver and lungs. Butler said Journey was treated with chemotherapy for stage-four kidney cancer, which meant the cancer had spread to other organs.
"[Doctors] said it was attributed to having a sickle cell trait. They didn't know why, so we had to start chemo right away," Butler said. "Everything changed at that point. We started chemo immediately, but nothing was working the way we wanted it to."
Journey died five months after her diagnosis, Butler said.
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association website, sickle cell trait is commonly found in athletes and mostly seen in African Americans. The trait can cause a carrier's red blood cells to sickle and block blood vessels if their body is pushed to extreme conditions; muscles and organs are then denied oxygen.
Unlike the sickle cell disease, carriers may not experience any symptoms.
During Journey's battle, Grant said staff and students sent homemade cards to Butler's home and the hospital, even signing a soccer ball for the family. The idea or wear orange on "Orange Day" was an attempt "to make it so more kids are aware in the school," Grant said.
Grant said he didn't know much about kidney cancer and began to educate himself, his students and their parents on the sickle cell trait. Butler said the Journey to Happiness Movement also holds events across Prince George's County to raise awareness for sickle cell trait carriers, including their first health fair at Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt last weekend.
Butler said Howard University's Center for Sickle Cell Disease provided free sickle cell trait screenings at the health fair. The organization and its efforts continue to grow in the county and at Eisenhower Middle, she said.