LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Four-year-old Kaylin Zimms of Lexington loves owls, the color purple, and playing with LEGO blocks. She also knows way too much about cancer.
"It made me very, very sick," Kaylin said.
Last June, Kaylin was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Her diagnosis came six months after her parents initially thought something might be wrong.
"It was around her Christmas program in December," Kaylin's mom, Suzanne Kruse, said. "She was at Providence Lutheran, and the whole entire program she was just yawning the entire time like she was going to go to sleep."
But Suzanne says Kaylin checked out fine at the doctor's office and she did again in April when her parents took her because they noticed Kaylin was bruising and a little pale.
"Everything was completely normal and checked out," Suzanne said. "Then, right before she was diagnosed, it was a low-grade fever, lethargy, some leg pain, and that was two or three days before her diagnosis."
Suzanne says Kaylin was admitted to Palmetto Health Children's Hospital with a white blood cell count of 340,000. Normal is 5,000 to 10,000. White blood cells help fight infection and illness and are essential for good health.
"In two months, it just completely took over her body," Suzanne said. "It's just that one cell misfires and takes over."
Complicating her AML diagnosis, Kaylin has a gene mutation called FLT3-ITD. It essentially means the cancer is more aggressive and a higher chance of returning if cured.
"I cried a lot, threw up, it was just numbness for days," Suzanne said. "After that for me, the best thing I could do was to learn as much about it as I possibly could."
Kaylin has undergone chemotherapy, radiation, and had a bone marrow transplant last September.
"They gave me a couple of bone marrows which really makes my back sore," Kaylin said. "Because they do a bone marrow and a spinal tap cause the spinal tap hurts the most."
After what seemed like a successful transplant, Kaylin relapsed this past December when doctors found cancer in her bone marrow again.
"At this point, we are at 22 percent [of cancer in Kaylin's bone marrow], which is a lot less than we started with," Suzanne said. "We are doing a low dose chemotherapy at home just to try and keep it at bay. It specifically hits the gene mutation, and she has to try to keep it from replicating."
Kaylin is also seeing doctors in Charleston two times a week. In the waiting, Kaylin's energy and spirit continues to be a source of inspiration to everyone around her.
"Right now, she's doing a lot better than anyone thought she would," Suzanne said. "I think she's a little bit of a medical marvel because she shouldn't have the energy that she does, and she's just rising above in a beautiful way."
Suzanne adds while they're hoping every day for complete healing, their heart is also to encourage other families to be proactive and know the signs.
"It can happen to anyone," Suzanne said. "She never had anything so much as a cold. She's always been exceptionally healthy," said Suzanne. "You see the commercials, you hear about kids, you see it on the news, but it's never going to be your kid. It happens in the blink of an eye and your entire life changes."
To put Kaylin's cancer in perspective, the national non-profit CureSearch for Children's Cancer estimates 15,700 children will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Just 5 percent, or 730 children, will be diagnosed with AML, and that's without taking the FLT3-ITD gene mutation into consideration. The American Cancer Society reports that of all childhood cancers, AML currently has the lowest 5-year survival rate at 65 percent.
Kaylin's family and the community continue to rally behind her and that includes through the Kick It Kaylin Facebook page. It started as a way to keep family and friends updated about Kaylin's condition, but it has also turned into a forum to post encouragement for her.
You'll also find information about upcoming events that are being held in Kaylin's honor. Her pre-school is hosting a blood drive on March 17 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Providence Lutheran School in Lexington.
The Kaylin Zimms 2016 Walk Against Leukemia is planned for Saturday, May 7. Organizers say the $25 registration fee includes park admission, a T-shirt, food, live music and activities at the end of the walk. To register email email@example.com.
If you'd like to support the family, a fund is set-up called "The Kaylin Fund" at Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union. You can also send Kaylin cards or encouragement at Kaylin Zimms PO Box 2562 West Columbia, SC 29171.