Refuse to Surrender 1

Optimism and Faith Fuel Unexpected Journey

Giving up is not an option. 

Four months ago, Emary Langhorn’s physician advised her that her cancer was growing again for the third time. She was told that statistics were not on her side and that she might consider giving up on curing the cancer and concentrate instead on extending her life. But, 17 is too young to die. Conceding to the Hodgkin’s Lymphoma that had taken her by surprise at the tender age of 14 would mean surrender; Emary refused.

Instead, Emary and her family made the difficult decision to say goodbye to the doctors, nurses and hospital who had been their extended family for two long years, and headed out for a second opinion. That second opinion resulted in quick and immediate action by the KU Med Cancer Center where Emary now receives her treatment at the Bone Marrow Transplant Clinic.     

Hope and faith intact, the resilient, strong-spirited teen’s two and a half year journey for a cure continues.

In November of 2012, Emary began experiencing chest pain. The pain persisted. Emary’s primary care physician diagnosed the pain as costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage of the chest.

“I was told to go home and take Tylenol,” recalls Emary.  “A month later, I was still in pain. At one point, the pain was so severe we ended up in the emergency room. The visit resulted in the same diagnosis.”

After 3 months of lingering pain and visits to several more physicians, Emary was advised to see a psychiatrist to find the underlying psychological cause of the pain. Instead, her family physician insisted on an x-ray and subsequent MRI. The results came rapidly; the cause of the pain was communicated immediately: “Your daughter has a mass, a tumor, in her chest.”  The journey began.

“Finally a diagnosis," recalls Emary.  "It was a relief. It wasn’t the answer I wanted to hear, but I was beginning to think I was crazy.  I knew the pain was not ‘just my imagination.’  I knew there was something wrong.”

“Along with the shock came reassurance. We were also told it was the most treatable form of cancer. On Feb 5, 2013, our lives changed dramatically,” Emary adds. “That night I was put into inpatient care at Children’s Mercy. All the tests that would’ve taken weeks or even a month to schedule and coordinate were completed in a single week.”

“We had complete and immediate immersion at the hospital. Everyone there was amazing,” says Mary. “We were fortunate to get Emary admitted the day of diagnosis. If we’d had to go home by ourselves and comprehend everything that was going on, it would have been terrible. We went headlong into the treatment and have been in it ever since.”

Though Emary’s battle against cancer has been full of ups and downs, twists and turns, she remains incredibly positive and attempts to live as normally as possible. 

“Emary inspires our whole school,” says Georgia-May Campbell, a close friend and classmate. “She’s inspired me so much just by showing me you can find positives and help others in literally everything you do. She influences everyone she meets with the enthusiasm and love she shares. Her strength is a huge source of inspiration. ”

Through Homebound Instruction in the Park Hill School District, Emary continues her studies. Though she will not have enough credits to graduate with her class, she plans to participate in the graduations ceremonies with them.  

“I miss being in the classroom,” admits Emary.  “One of the worst things about this is not getting to feel like I’m a part of normal, everyday activities. I miss the little things like going out to eat with my friends.”

Still, Emary says she has benefited greatly from this life-altering experience. "I’ve met some incredible people along the way and made some amazing friends."

Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Emary met the members of the band, One Direction. She gleefully recalls Harry kissing her mom on the cheek. While inpatient at Children’s Mercy, she also met celebrities Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis. She even met Ed Sheerhan, thanks to the work of her friend, Georgia-May.  

Though life isn’t supposed to be this way, Emary consistently finds the positive in the experience. One of her most memorable experiences was attending Camp Quality, a summer camp for kids with cancer.  

“Camp Quality changed my life and showed me that you cannot give cancer the power to ruin your life or to ruin you as a person. I’ve gotten to laugh, dance, prank, hangout with and meet some of the most amazing people I will probably ever meet.  The sad thing is you never know if you’ll see them again. On and off throughout the year we get notifications of kids who have passed away.”

Emary’s ever-present smile, her desire to refrain from letting cancer define her life or who she is, detracts from the scars on her chest and the central line that protrudes. It’s all part of the disease she has accepted and vowed to defeat.

In September of 2013, after several rounds of chemo and radiation therapy, Emary was told she was in remission. She called her dad, Simon, who lives in Arkansas, to share the great news. She celebrated with her mother and her brother, Thomas. The great news was short lived, though. Within 30 days of being told she was in remission, her cancer was back. 

Since the recurrence in 2013, and subsequent growth of her tumor in 2015, Emary has undergone numerous treatments, including steroids to shrink the tumors and most recently, a bone marrow transplant utilizing her own stem cells, followed by more chemo. Another bone marrow transplant using donor stem cells is scheduled for early summer. 

In between treatments, Emary looks forward to prom, and feeling normal again. 

“I do plan on going to prom," Emary promises. “And I won’t have to worry about having my hair styled; I have none,” Emary jokes. “Luckily, I don’t have an ugly head.”

“My parents and brother are so positive.  From the second I found out, everyone’s been so upbeat.  The fact that everyone else has hope for me means I cannot lose hope.”

“I refuse to die from this. I am stronger than this disease. I only ask that others stay as positive as I am and fight by my side. I need your prayers, good faith and strength now more than ever.”

“We are grateful to our community and family for all their support, love, prayers and meals,” adds Mary. “It takes a village. We are truly blessed.”