Even as she battled leukemia and the side effects of chemotherapy, 4-year-old Skyler Hundley kept a smile on her face and traded jokes with her twin sister. That kind of optimism helped her parents and others on some dark days.
“It helped us get through it. She wouldn’t let it get her down," said her father, John Hundley.
Five years later, with her cancer in remission and treatments completed, Hundley still participates in the "Light the Night Walk" and other events with her family for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). On Saturday, the Capital-area chapter of LLS honored Skyler, now age 9, as Girl of the Year at the organization's annual Leukemia Ball.
Skyler, who was also Girl of the Year in 2010, said she was "happy and a little nervous" about making a speech.
For the first few years of Skyler's life, everything seemed normal, but one day just before her fifth birthday, her parents noticed swollen lymph nodes under her chin. They took her to a pediatrician, who discovered that they were all over her body as well, and took a blood test. The test showed that her counts were severely abnormal. Skyler was admitted to the pediatric oncology ward at Fairfax Hospital. The next morning, after a spinal tap and bone marrow aspiration, doctors officially diagnosed her with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
The treatments were difficult for Skyler, but she kept a positive outlook.
"She didn’t enjoy the treatments, but she always seemed to kind of take them on with a smile,” said John, who like his wife Stacey, is a native of Northern Virginia. The two have lived in the Centreville area for about 10 years, and have two other children, Christian and Jordan (Skyler's twin).
As Skyler progressed with her treatments, her family became involved with LLS and began to participate together in the Light the Night Walk each year. Skyler was also the "honored hero" at the "Pennies for Patients" fundraiser at her school,.
For the first six months, though, things were grueling for her parents.
"At the beginning it’s terrifying and you don’t know how to react. You’re confronted with the news that your child has cancer and you’re paralyzed…You work your way through it one day at a time," John said.
But Skyler's attitude made a big difference.
"When the person going through it is smiling and laughing, that helps," he said.