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Unity girl remains cancer-free for a year

| Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 8:58 p.m.
For The Mt. Pleasant Journal
Chad Kalp, left, of Unity with his daughter Hannah Kalp, 6. Hannah is holding a sign similar to the one she held in a photo her mother, Melissa Kalp, recently posted on Facebook regarding the fact that she has been cancer free and treatment free for one year in a photograph taken in December 2012. The photo has received thousands of congratulatory comments from around the globe on the social media site. Linda Harkcom | For The TRIBUNE-REVIEW

The Kalp family of Unity was forever changed Aug. 15, 2009 — the day Hannah Kalp, then age 3, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Three years later, Kalp and her family are celebrating the fact that young Hannah has been cancer-free and treatment-free for an entire year.

Now age 6, Hannah — who marked the milestone Dec. 1 — said it feels good to know she has been cancer-free for so long.

“The best part is I don't have to miss school, because I only go to the doctor every two months now,” she said.

To get to that point, the Kalps have endured many challenges along the way.

Hannah was treated at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said her father, Chad Kalp, 30.

During her treatment, Hannah underwent six phases of chemotherapy, which took such a toll on the young girl's body that she required blood transfusions.

Hannah's mother, Melissa Kalp, 35, was required by doctors to administer shots to build up her daughter's white blood cell count.

“That was the hardest thing I have ever had to do to my child,” Melissa Kalp said.

Chad Kalp said the experience has definitely shaped the person his daughter has become.

“She knows so much now about medical stuff. It's made her stronger and, of course, later on in life, I know she will look back on it and she will have a better understanding of how she could have died,” he said. “It's made her brave because of what she's been through. She's not afraid of anything.”

Hannah's grandmother, Denise Kalp of Acme, has helped the couple through this difficult time.

She said she is thrilled to see her granddaughter begin to live a normal life.

“God has answered our prayers,” Denise Kalp said. “It's great to see her growing, thriving, going to school and just loving life.”

She agreed that the cancer has made an impact on the type of person Hannah has become.

“She is a very kind soul. She is wise beyond her years and she has compassion for everyone. I think having cancer had a great deal to do with that. It gives all these kids who are going through it a sense of a higher being,” Denise Kalp said.

Melissa Kalp explained why being one year cancer-free was such a milestone for her daughter.

“A year is one of the five stepping stones that you have to cross for the cancer not to come back. After five years, the percentages are higher she will not relapse so the chances of her relapsing then are slim,” Melissa Kalp said. “To me, it means we are one step closer to the point of no return for the cancer. In my heart, there is a little spot that is prepared if it comes back.”

Chad Kalp said he is cautiously optimistic with Hannah having reached the one-year mark.

“It's nice knowing that we could live normally and not have to worry about the things we had to worry about for the past 2 12 years,” he said.

When the day finally came, Melissa Kalp said she was so happy that she wanted to share her family's good news with everyone she could.

She said she thought about putting a sign in her yard. Instead, she opted to post a picture of Hannah holding a sign saying she was one year cancer-free on Facebook.

“I only wanted to share my good news and thought, ‘What a better way than Facebook?'” she said.

Kalp and her family never imagined the response they would receive or the impact the photo would make on the social networking site.

She posted the photo on two different profile pages on the site — the Make-A-Wish Foundation's page and the “Beautiful and Bald Barbie” page.

The picture became a sensation with people from all around the world endorsing it and sharing it.

In less than nine days, the photo on the Make-A-Wish page received more than 299,000 “likes” and had received more than 2,900 comments.

The picture on the “Beautiful and Bald Barbie” page had 407,000 “likes” and had received more than 74,000 comments.

“It's been all over the world. We've had messages from Bali, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, South America and a lot from all across the United States,” Chad Kalp said.

Hannah said she is happy so many people are congratulating her and sending her well-wishes.

She is not a total stranger to the limelight, either. For the past three years, Hannah has been the poster child for Mother Hope of Pittsburgh.

The organization helps families with children who are patients in Children's Hospital, and it also supports an orphanage in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This summer, Hannah was also chosen as the poster child for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia Chapter. Her family is just happy that they can celebrate.

“None of this would be possible without the skill of the doctors and nurses at Children's Hospital,” Denise Kalp said. “They are always exploring and studying up on the latest treatments to help these kids survive.”

Linda Harkcom is a freelance writer.

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