In a recent family snapshot, Carol Linton is smiling impishly at her sisters. Her long brown hair is pulled back in a pony tail and tied with a ribbon. Her blue dress is carefully arranged to show off the red trim and ruffles.
That was four months ago. Today, the tiny toddler is sitting on her mother's lap, fretfully rubbing her eyes and making a face at the medicine. Her hair is just a soft down. Her skin is pale and looks as delicate as tissue paper.
"Yuck," she says, grimacing as her mother adds saline solution tothe catheter. "It tastes terrible."
She whimpers occasionally when the pain gets worse. But the 2-year-old also is a fighter. Whenevershe feels a little better, she clowns around with her mother and herbaby sister.
Less than three weeks ago, Carol was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. By the time specialists at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore discovered she had neuroblastoma, a tumorof the nerve cells, the cancer had spread from her abdomen to the orbit of her right eye.
She was anemic with a dropping blood count. Her spleen and liver were enlarged, and her right eye had swollen andlooked bruised. Most of her bone marrow was filled with cancerous cells.
"I was just about in tears every time we went to the doctor's(office)," says her mother, Cheryl Linton. "It was so scary."
Although Carol had a full-blown case of cancer by the time she started chemotherapy, the doctors believe she can be completely cured, Linton said. With a year of monthly treatments, blood infusions and a bone marrow transplant, Carol is likely to survive and grow up a healthy child.
"I just keep praying that the smidgen of a chance that the cancer will keep growing won't happen," her mother says.
The biggestworry compounding their fears about Carol's health is the cost of saving her life, Ken and Cheryl Linton say. The Glen Burnie couple has no medical insurance to cover her treatment, which quickly is adding up to tens of thousands ofdollars. Just staying in the hospital for chemotherapy, which Carol must do once a month, costs $2,700 for each visit.
"We live from paycheck to paycheck," says Cheryl Linton, who worked part-time as a courier until Carol was diagnosed with cancer. "We just didn't have no savings for something like this."
Her husband of five years runs an air freight delivery service. As an independent businessman who delivers air freight packages to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, he receives no medical insurance unless he buys it. But the cost was too much for the Lintons, who have four children.
Cheryl Linton used to belong to the Columbia-FreestateHealth System Inc. while she was working as a courier for Systems Services Inc., a temporary service based in Glen Burnie. But just before she gave birth to Diane, now 6 months old, the company stopped paying for her insurance plan.
When she returned to work in November, Systems Services Inc. had closed, Linton says. She took a part-time job as a courier with Barrett Services, another temporary service. But Barrett only offered her a single co-payment insurance plan instead of family coverage.
Already skimping on the extras to pay for their apartment near North Arundel Hospital, the Lintons say they could not afford topick up the cost of medical insurance. So they hoped to stay healthy enough to avoid any large hospital bills.
Two months later, their luck ran out. Cheryl came down with a flu and noticed that Carol was complaining about aches and pains. At first, she assumed that her daughter had the same flu, Linton said. But when she continued to run a high fever, Linton took her to visit her ex-husband, David Hartig, a family physician in Hunt Valley.
Hartig, who is the father of Cheryl's first two children, Julie, 11, and Beth, 10, is a close friend of the family. He ran some tests on Carol and prescribed antibiotics. After she continued to have a high fever for several weeks and started to become anemic, he checked whether she had signs of leukemia. Then, Hartig sent her to specialists at Johns Hopkins, who discovered she had a cancer of the nervous system.
A member of the Glen Burnie Improvement Association this week recommended donating $500 to the family. The motion will be voted on at the association's monthly meeting in May. At the same time, the Ferndale Fire Co., where both of the Lintons serve as volunteer firefighters, have arranged for a fund through Maryland National Bank. Anyone wishing to donate money to help pay for Carol's medical bills can send checks to Maryland National Bank branches in her name.