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PAXTON — When volunteers with the Central Illinois chapter of the Pink Heals charity rolled up for a surprise visit with 6-year-old cancer patient Addy Grande recently, it was going to be the group’s last stop. Ever.

Chapter President Tim Cahill said he and his wife and another person had been funding the good-deed effort out of their own pockets the past year, but couldn’t afford to do it any longer.

That’s when a Paxton-based company stepped in. Hudson Drug Store has donated $20,000 to keep the chapter going.

When volunteers with the group learn someone has been hit by a life-altering illness, they bring a pink fire engine, pink police car and local first responders to the person’s home or place of business in the hope of lifting their spirits.

Cahill figures Pink Heals has been to the homes of at least 100 people over the years. With a four-person board of directors, the local chapter has 15 to 20 volunteers who will step up to take part in events.

Addy, of Paxton, was just the latest person to be cheered by a Pink Heals visit.

When some of the organization’s volunteers weren’t able to make it, Cahill’s son started making phone calls and got some PBL football and basketball players to go along — Eben Cahill, Tyler Smith, Jacob Gronsky, Aiden Johnson, Mason Bruns, Kayden Snelling and Kelly Swanson. The students have since dubbed themselves the “PBL Hype Squad.”

Cahill said when the PBL students saw little Addy, “it kind of hit them and showed them how these families struggle when people are going through illnesses.”

It prompted the students to go one step further. They have scheduled a toy drive and cash donation collection to help with the family’s expenses at the boys’ basketball game between PBL and visiting rival Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, set for 7 p.m. today.

Addy’s mother, Jackie, said her daughter is doing much better.

“We got some great news last time at the hospital in that she’s completely done with her IV chemo and only three weeks left with the oral chemo,” she said.

Doctors were surprised when they discovered Addy might have both hepatocellular carcinoma and hepatoblastoma forms of cancer.

The young girl began complaining of stomach pain in March that just got worse. Several trips to her doctor and convenient care revealed nothing. But Addy began losing weight.

Finally, she spiked a fever and doubled over in pain, which prompted her mother to take her to the emergency room. A CT scan discovered a 12-centimeter mass.

“I was furious” that the other doctors had dismissed the child’s issues, Jackie Grande said. “I’m still furious that no one took her seriously. But I am forever grateful that it was found in time.”

Treatment began shortly thereafter at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

“They were so baffled because (her tests) came back with two cancers,” Jackie said.

Addy underwent five rounds of chemo, three of which came before surgery and two after.

The first three rounds were to see if the chemo would affect the mass.

“When it started to shrink, they felt there may be (hepatoblastoma), which reacts very well to it,” she said.

Addy’s condition has been improving ever since, although there have been some side effects, such as the random accumulation of fluid in her abdomen, which had to be drained and treated with diuretics, and the depletion of electrolytes, vitamins and minerals.

The family has about worn out the road between their home and the hospital.

A first-grader, Addy has been home-schooled during her ordeal. Her mother said Addy has been quite a trouper throughout.

“I’m baffled at her strength,” she said.

Addy likes to color and paint, build things, do crafts, play with sand art, read books, and play on her tablet and with her friends.

“I would say she’s getting back to her new normal,” her mother said. “Things will never be the same, I don’t think. She’s come a long way from when this all first started.”

Jackie said she would walk the floors of the cancer ward and hear infants crying. Everyone on that floor had cancer or a blood disorder. She said she thanked God that Addy was old enough “so she could tell me what was wrong.”

Her mother works for Carle Foundation Hospital. Her boyfriend, Jerry Brown, Addy’s father, is a subcontractor for FedEx.

Also present at the recent Pink Heals surprise visit with Addy was Paxton Fire Department.

“We gave them some donations from Paxton Ready Mix, Frederick Community Bank, Monical’s Pizza, Paxton Hardware and Rental” and the pharmacy, Cahill said. “We try to bring the community together and show they’re not alone.”

Addy and her family will be at tonight’s game.

JC Heating and Cooling in Gibson City will donate $10 for every three-point basket and $5 for every made free throw.

Checks from those unable to be present may be sent to Pink Heals, 720 N. Market St., Paxton, IL 60957. Write “Addy” in the memo line.

Our County Editor

Dave Hinton is editor of The News-Gazette's Our County section and former editor of the Rantoul Press. He can be reached at dhinton@news-gazette.com.

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