Maranda Wilborn and her family have battled together to beat her first bought of cancer “rhabdomyosarcoma” and then leukemia, now Maranda’s biggest challenge is 2nd grade.
One might think that after missing kindergarten and first grade for stays in hospitals with chemotherapy and ports and blood draws and needles, a young girl might be a little angry, hurt or frustrated. She might lash out toward those who had a normal childhood, instead of entering school in the second grade.
But that’s not Maranda.
One might think that after such an ordeal, the little girl and her family might want to get it all out, to talk about any pain they went through. They might dwell on the sleepless nights at a hospital, or the financial hardships that come with being working poor and having to leave the job repeatedly to hurry a child to an emergency room.
Nope. That’s not the Wilborn family.
They focus instead on Maranda’s present and future. They look to the past only with gratitude for the help and prayers they received.
“She’s a normal kid,” says Liz Watts, Maranda’s second-grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary in Belleville. Except she’s “probably exceptional in her kindness. She’s very kind.”
Maranda, who turned 8 on Thursday, was diagnosed with a rare and often deadly cancer when she was 5. After rounds of chemotherapy, she was clear of it and nearly done with treatment when she was diagnosed with leukemia. After weeks of waiting and worry, the family found that Maranda’s younger sister was a viable donor.
What the Wilborns focus on is their luck that a family member could donate bone marrow, that God would provide for them in such a way. And they remain awed by the kindness of the community, from the anonymous donors who made it possible for them to keep bills paid to the mechanic who fixed their vehicle for free.
“This is my responsibility,” mom Myiesha Wilborn says a new mechanic told her and her husband, Randy, when their vehicle needed new tires and other repairs. “You take care of her.”
During this season of believing, the Wilborns focus on the prayers from strangers that, they have said, lifted their spirits in tough times.
“At the time, we fell into a deep financial problems,” Randy said. The contributions “took a lot off us” and let the family visit with Maranda when she had longer hospital stays.
They’re grateful that Maranda’s younger sister, Myriah, was a viable bone marrow donor. They’re grateful that older brother, Randy Jr., is healthy, too.
Myriah, then barely 5, had fun at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, Myiesha said. She was excited to finally be where her big sister was, although the girls had to be kept separated before the donation. Myriah got to order all the hospital foods that her sister had been eating, and they watched a lot of movies.
Myiesha stayed with Myriah the night after the girl’s bone marrow was taken, and the little chatterbox was excited all night long. She kept wanting to order food and see her sister.
Finally, the girls could see one another again. Myriah climbed into the hospital bed with her big sister.
“The moment her blood started to go into Maranda’s body, (Myriah) fell asleep,” their mother said. And just days later, Myiesha knew her daughter would be fine.
They focus on Jefferson School, where all three of their children now attend. It was Jefferson that first alerted the media to their needs, and subsequent stories led to more than $9,000 in contributions to a GoFundMe account that enabled the family to stay solvent.
Maranda’s favorite books are the Biscuit series, and she gets special reading help and an hour of tutoring after school every day to help keep her on track.
“She’s really blossoming,” Watts said, and is making friends as well as improving academically.
Maranda has had some balance issues, which were expected after all the trauma, but is largely completely recovered, her parents said.
“She can take off and run around all day, but at certain times” she stumbles, Randy said.
And Myiesha is thrilled to watch her daughter’s hair grow. Maranda still covers her scalp with an always-fashionable scarf that she can now tie herself, but silky curls peek from underneath.
“If you ask me, it’s real pretty,” Myiesha said. “This time, it’s much much prettier and soft and really curly.”