Six-year-old Ainsly Liter and her sister Delany, 9, ride figure-8s on their bicycles on the rain-dampened asphalt in the driveway of their home on Madison's hilltop. Their mother, Gerri, watches from the open garage door as the girls giggle and a light drizzle falls on their heads.
It was not long ago when the Liter family lived in uncertainty, unsure if Ainsly would ever have a normal childhood or live to be a teenager.
Gerri Liter and her husband, Gary, sought medical help in April 2002 when Ainsly was 22 months old. Ainsly had begun bruising easily, was crying constantly and had developed an unexplained swollen abdomen. Doctors at Kosair Children's Hospital in Louisville, Ky., recognized the symptoms, and after a round of tests Ainsly was diagnosed with leukemia.
Over the next two years, Ainsly received chemotherapy to fight the disease. Some sessions were done in a doctor's office, some at home.
Gerri said there were many days when Ainsly would be able to get up and play with her sisters soon after the treatment was over. Ainsly would also have her bad days, though, when her body responded poorly to the treatments and she would be too tired and feeling too nauseous to do anything but lie at home.
"There were times when she couldn't be very active," Gerri said.
Ainsly's chemotherapy treatments ended in May 2004, and with no leukemia found in her body, she was considered to be in remission.
On a recent follow-up appointment at the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Specialists office at the Children's Hospital Foundation Building in Louisville, Dr. Salvatore Bertolone gave the Liters the news that they have waited to hear. "Statistically, the first two years are the best chance for a relapse," Bertolone said. Now that Ainsly has more than two years free of leukemia, he said she is most likely done with the disease.
Ainsly will still go in for periodic checkups. Her next visit will be in six months, but Bertolone said she should be able to carry on like any other child her age.
"We have seen some kids slightly off the growth levels of other children their age after chemotherapy," Bertolone said. "But Ainsly seems to be right on track."
With two years having passed since her chemotherapy ended, Ainsly said she doesn't think about her sick days very often. She doesn't remember losing her hair, and now she is much more interested in playing with her friends and having fun.
"It was great to see her start playing with her sisters and friends again," Gerri said.
Gerri said she still has moments of worry when Ainsly catches a cold or gets a fever, but the family spends most of their concerns on more day-to-day events, like making it to soccer games and dance practice on time, and doing school work.
Ainsly is a first-grader at Anderson Elementary School, and according to her teacher, Ann Motenko, she has no problem keeping up with her peers.
This is evident as Ainsly hurls a ball at a classmate during a recent game of dodge ball in the gymnasium. As another ball zips past her head, she and her friends scream playfully and dash to the other side of the court. An outsider who didn't know any better, would never be able to tell that Ainsly had ever been different from the other kids in class. (Story - ©Ken Ritchie/The Madison Courier)