On the 'Net
- To learn more about neuroblastoma from the American Cancer Society, click here.
Steamboat Springs Doug and Andrea Hurth ate their Thanksgiving meal in 2005 while sitting in a hospital at the bedside of their 14-month-old daughter, Valerie.
Scared beyond words, the Hurths had learned just two days before that Valerie had a rare type of cancer with a survival rate doctors estimated at 20 percent.
Thanksgiving 2008 will be a much happier affair. After moving from southeastern Wisconsin, the Hurths have made a home in Steamboat Springs as Valerie, now 4, has recovered from the cancer and has few memories of her ordeal.
On Nov. 23, 2005, Valerie was diagnosed with advanced, widespread neuroblastoma cancer in two tumors - a 15-centimeter mass in her chest and another tumor behind her eye. The cancer, which is based around the nervous system, is most commonly seen in children and is often fatal.
"It was the hardest and worst thing we'll have to do in our lives," Doug Hurth said about the diagnosis. "Our world just stopped at that point, and my body went numb."
They checked into the hospital the next day, where the family remained for more than two weeks as Valerie began the first round of treatment.
The Hurths try to eat only organic food and will turn first to homeopathic remedies, but they decided the specter of Valerie's cancer was too big to treat with traditional methods.
"The whole doctor thing was hard for us, but at the same time, we were faced with this monster," Doug Hurth said.
The Hurths made regular visits to the hospital as Valerie went through six chemotherapy treatments.
"The whole experience, overall. : We were just walking zombies living in the hospital," Doug Hurth said. Each treatment would require a stay in the hospital, followed by bouts of sickness once Valerie returned home.
The Hurths also began treating Valerie with homeopathic remedies in addition to her chemotherapy, at one point using 30 different types of supplements to help her immune system.
"It was like night-and-day difference (when she began taking supplements)," Doug Hurth said. "Things started happening to her, like her hair growing back between treatments."
Doctors initially were skeptical that Valerie would regrow any hair between treatments, but unmistakable peach fuzz and eyelashes began appearing after the fourth round of treatments.
Doctors used surgery to remove the tumor in Valerie's chest, and chemotherapy medicine was pumped into her system using an 11-inch central line, which stayed in place for months after the final treatment had ended.
As a part of the recovery process, the Hurths moved from Heartland, Wis., to Steamboat because of the advice of a doctor that the high altitude would help Valerie and because they were ready to move on to a new phase of their lives.
When Andrea Hurth was pregnant with Valerie, the couple had just moved into a new home they had built in Wisconsin, not far from Andrea Hurth's parents.
But their view of the new house, as well as Doug Hurth's drywall business, quickly diminished when Valerie was diagnosed with her cancer - one of the suspected causes of neuroblastoma is chemicals commonly found in building supplies and abundant in new homes.
Although the link between the chemicals and the cancer definitely has not been proven, according to the American Cancer Society, several studies suggest a correlation.
"We can't really say what did it, and I don't think it would be fair to put blame on someone or something," Doug Hurth said.
In order to combat Valerie's cancer and help her recover as fast as possible, Andrea and Doug Hurth became stricter about their eating habits and more aware of their environment.
"It has changed every aspect of our lives," Andrea Hurth said.
She now monitors the foods Valerie eats and the places they visit. Doug Hurth said he was wary of visiting newly constructed buildings and avoids trails and parks for weeks after they are sprayed with pesticides or fertilizers.
The awareness of chemicals in homes also prompted the Hurths to open a Building for Health home supply store at 345 Lincoln Ave. The store sells flooring, bedding, cleaning supplies and other home products that are made naturally and do not contain chemicals.
Typical mattresses and carpets are laden with chemicals, Doug Hurth said, inspiring him to sell "green" products.
The Hurths also used those products in the renovation of their home in Stagecoach as a way to help Valerie stay healthy.
"I said, 'Let's reduce the load on her immune system,'" Doug Hurth said. "And why not do that for her all the time, and for us."
These days, Valerie is a happy, healthy 4-year-old who enjoys doll clothes and ice-skating. She is signed up for ski lessons.
At their Thanksgiving meal today, the Hurths will enjoy a feast complete with organic turkey, mashed potatoes, squash, cranberry dressing and pumpkin cheesecake.
Andrea Hurth said the holiday still reminds her of time spent scared in the hospital with Valerie, but this year, the family will celebrate a new type of joy: Andrea recently found out she is pregnant again. Valerie will call her grandparents today to share the big news.
"We're looking forward to a happy, healthy Thanksgiving," Andrea Hurth said.
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