Frederick County teen isn't fighting her battle against leukemia alone

April 16, 1995|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

THURMONT -- Friends, neighbors and others in small towns here in northern Frederick County are mobilizing to help cancer victim Shannan Zahn raise money for a potentially life-saving bone-marrow transplant.

Churches are sponsoring submarine sandwich sales and recycling drives. Others are conducting car washes and pizza parties. A country and western dance, golf tournament and auction also are in the works.

The goal is to raise about $40,000 -- Miss Zahn's family's share of the $200,000 procedure. The family's insurance company is expected to pay 80 percent of the bill.

"I'm helping because if it were to happen to one of my children, God forbid, I would want people to help us," said Erin Dingle, manager of the county library's Thurmont branch who has been working to publicize Miss Zahn's plight.

An auction planned for Saturday at Mother Seton Elementary School in Emmitsburg is expected to raise about $20,000. Auctioneer Norman O'Neal and his assistants have collected 270 donations, ranging from homemade quilts to rocking chairs to gift certificates for golf rounds, vacation rentals and dinners. Baseballs autographed by Oriole players Cal Ripken Jr. and Jeffrey Hammonds, Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron and a basketball signed by Washington Bullets star Chris Webber are expected to draw a lot of interest -- and dollars.

"People are donating because they see this as something special -- Shannan is a person they can relate to," Mr. O'Neal said. "This is a real person who is sick and needs help."

Miss Zahn, 19, had thought her battle with cancer was over.

After two years of chemotherapy, her cancer was in remission and the Catoctin High School graduate was ready to pursue college courses. She was looking forward to attending classes regularly without disruptions from the chemotherapy that altered her high school years.

But then several weeks into her first semester at Frederick Community College last fall, Miss Zahn had a relapse. She

learned that the cancer -- acute lymphoblastic lymphoma -- was back and had progressed to include acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

In all forms of leukemia, abnormal white blood cells proliferate in the bone marrow, leaving the patient highly susceptible to serious infections, anemia and bleeding episodes. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is one of four main types of leukemia. Their incidence varies with age, but acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the common type in children.

Miss Zahn is back receiving chemotherapy treatment at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and is awaiting a bone-marrow transplant -- a costly procedure that will require her to stay in a hospital for months.

"We're hoping the bone-marrow transplant will be her cure," said Joan Zahn, the patient's mother. "Chemotherapy is not the permanent answer for Shannan -- as soon as she quits, the cancer comes back.

Besides waiting for a bone-marrow donor to be matched, Miss Zahn is fighting a fungus infection, which requires her to receive antibiotics and other medical treatment several hours each day. She spends her nights at NIH and her afternoons at home in Thurmont.

"We thought we were going to lose her fight three weeks ago because of the infection," Mrs. Zahn said.

The family's problems are compounded by their insurance company, MDIPA, a health care subsidiary of Mid-Atlantic Medical Services Inc., which will cover the operation only if it is performed at Children's National Medical Center or Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. The family would like the procedure to be done at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

Mrs. Zahn said her daughter's doctors have recommended Sloan-Kettering. The family is seeking help from Maryland's congressional delegation on the issue.

"We are trying to pass on the concerns of Shannan. We're trying to do everything we can," said Greg Cox, district administrator for U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett in Frederick.

Miss Zahn, who hopes to resume classes at Frederick Community College and pursue a law career, is optimistic about her future.

"I didn't think I'd be back to chemotherapy," she said. "I was working two jobs and going to college and being a normal kid again. I really want to get this all over with and just move on."

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