2016-04-08 / Front Page

Mighty Mallory putting up a fight

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


The family being helped by a silent auction and ticket raffle fundraiser Saturday, April 9, at Atlantic Hall in Cape Porpoise, includes, from left, mom Shayna Cormier, son Tucker, grandmother Joanne McGee, Mallory, diagnosed last November with leukemia, and father Matthew McGee. The event is co-organized by The Kennebunk Toy Co., where Joanne McGee works and where this picture was taken. (Duke Harrington photo) The family being helped by a silent auction and ticket raffle fundraiser Saturday, April 9, at Atlantic Hall in Cape Porpoise, includes, from left, mom Shayna Cormier, son Tucker, grandmother Joanne McGee, Mallory, diagnosed last November with leukemia, and father Matthew McGee. The event is co-organized by The Kennebunk Toy Co., where Joanne McGee works and where this picture was taken. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — As 2-year-old Mallory McGee stands at a child-sized chalkboard inside the Kennebunk Toy Co., a light bulb seems to go off in her head, and a smile crosses her face.

She runs over to her mother, places a purple piece of chalk in her hand, and points back to the board. The invitation to come play is clear, and Mighty Mallory will not be denied. As mother and daughter stride to the board, a squeal of delight escapes the young girl’s lips.

But for Mallory, the laughter doesn’t come as easily as it once did. On her second birthday, last Nov. 1, Mallory got the worst present of all, a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia – cancer.

Mallory hadn’t been feeling well for a while. And she seemed to get sick a little too often, running a fever as soon as she came off antibiotics. No wonder, with her little immune system so compromised. Three days after the dreaded diagnosis, Mallory began chemotherapy.

“Her blood levels were so off. She started the chemo right off the bat and she’s been getting it weekly since then, plus once or twice a month she has to go in for a spinal tap,” says Mallory’s mom, Shayna Cormier, as she cradles her other child, 7-month-old Tucker.

“It’s been rough emotionally, and even physically,” Cormier says, welling up as she watches Mallory resume control of the chalkboard, extrapolating off the lines her mother placed. “Just last month we were admitted to the hospital twice and in the emergency room three times, for viruses and stuff that she can’t fight off on her own. Because her immune system is so weak, everything is taken very seriously.

“But other than that, she’s been responding to the chemo really well,” Cormier says. “Although, she knows the doctor’s office now, and she always wants to go running out because she knows something bad is going to happen. The chemo really wipes her out. It hurts. And it makes her feet numb. And she can’t really understand why she doesn’t feel well, or why she has to feel worse for a while in order to get better. She just knows she feels yucky and, at her age, she has no way to express it other than whining and crying.

“That’s what makes it so hard on her father and myself, because we can’t take that pain away from her,” Cormier said.

Cormier and her fiancĂ©, Matthew McGee, who is Mallory and Tucker’s dad, live in Casco now, but both grew up in Kennebunk and graduated from Kennebunk High School – Cormier in 2010, McGee in 2008. McGee works at Mainely Tubs, while Cormier is on leave from UNUM.

“It’s hard because I had just, just come back from maternity leave when Mallory was diagnosed, and now I’ve been out ever since with her,” Cormier said.

Thankfully, there’s been help, from the community and from family.

McGee’s mother, Joanne McGee, has worked at Kennebunk Toy Co. for the past six years, but she’s better known to hundreds of local children as the lunch lady at Kennebunkport Consolidated School. Those students, mostly in middle school now, might not recognize their beloved Ms. McGee, however. In sympathy with her first grandchild, McGee has shaved her head bald.

“Of course, I cried,” she said, recalling when Mallory’s hair began to fall out. “But then I was like, ‘OK, Kelly [Ratoff, owner of the Kennebunk Toy Co.] you’re watching the store, I’ll be right back.’” McGee came back looking, she admits, looking like a giant-sized version of her granddaughter.

Matt McGee shaved his head as well, although Cormier contented herself with cutting off 8 inches and donating her hair to charities that make wigs for cancer patients.

“I couldn’t quite go all the way,” she says, with a laugh.

But the smiles only last a moment. Living through cancer is a learning experience, although the lessons are not always things one would care to learn.

“I never knew that for someone with cancer, it actually hurts when their hair falls out,” McGee says, as she watches Mallory draw, and tries to hold back the tears. “I never knew that. I always thought it just fell out.” “Once it all finally came out, she felt so much happier,” Cormier says of Mallory. “Although sometimes she goes to touch it and realize it’s not there.”

“There’s been a lot of crying, and a lot of praying,” Joanne McGee says. “To see her childhood taken away, it’s so hard, because it’s going to be about two and a half years of the chemo for her.”

The hope is that Mallory will progress enough to be down to monthly rather than weekly doses of chemotherapy, or maybe even in remission altogether, by the time she enters preschool.

For now, however, there are more immediate concerns. The medical bills are astounding, even with insurance. And, while Cormier has been home from work, Matt McGee also has been forced to take unpaid time off from his job.

“Matt and I have been together since high school and we’ve worked our asses off for everything we have, and, so, to barely get by with our regular bills, and then to have this thrown at us, it just hits you right in the heart. It’s like you just can’t work enough hours in the day to take care of your family and pay off all the medical bills,” Cormier says. “And it’s not like giving birth, where it’s one set of bills and then you’re done with it. We’re going to be getting these bills for the next several years, at least. It’s huge.”

To help out, Ratoff and Lauren Helliwell, owner of Restless Threads have helped organize a fundraiser, to be held from 2-6 p.m. on Saturday, April 9, at Atlantic Hall, located at 173 Main St. in Cape Porpoise.

The event features free food catered by Federal Jack’s, along with music, events for the kids, a silent auction and a ticket auction. Auction and raffle booty is slated to include hundreds of items, including Red Sox tickets, a gas grill, a giant stuffed giraffe and gift cards – some for as much as $100 – to local businesses and restaurants, as well as vacation trip packages, and one-of-a-kind items, like paintings and autographed objects.

Tickets are $30 at the door, or can be purchased in advance at either the Kennebunk Toy Co. or Restless Threads, both located on Main Street in Kennebunk.

To Ratoff, the willingness of community members to pitch in is not surprising, partly because of the McGee family – active participants for years in groups like the Kennebunk Twirlers – and partly because of the character of Kennebunk.

“Everybody knows everybody in this town, and if they don’t know who these people are, they know somebody who does,” Ratoff said. “There have been other families in town in this situation and, in this town, when something like this happens, everybody pours in. It’s a pretty amazing thing.”

“It’s been great in that, all along, people have been willing to help out, whether it’s donating to the fundraiser, or watching Tucker, or dropping by with meals, or even keeping us on their prayer list. It all helps,” Cormier said. “It’s all very much appreciated. It’s not until something like this hits that you realize how many people you have behind you.”

Join the fight

What: A fundraiser to
aid 2-year-old Mallory
McGee’s fight against
leukemia.
When: Saturday, April
9, 2-6 p.m.
Where: Atlantic Hall,
located, 173 Main St.,
Cape Porpoise

Info: The event features free food catered by Federal Jack’s, along with music, events for the kids, a silent auction and a ticket auction. Tickets are $30 at the door, or can be purchased in advance at either The Kennebunk Toy Co. or Restless Threads, both located on Main Street in Kennebunk.

Return to top