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Karlee McQueen

  • Rhabdomyosarcoma

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Karlee is a lovable, empathetic teenager. She loves reading, dancing, color guard, board games and all things Disney! She is fiercely protective of her family and friends, and while she is not the biggest fan of change, she always tackles any obstacles with courage. 

In December 2007, Karlee’s mom, Tamy, noticed her 2-year-old was eating less, yet her abdomen was distending. Karlee’s energy level was also steadily decreasing, until one day she didn’t want to get off the couch to play. Tamy knew right then she needed to take her daughter to the doctor. However, an ice storm knocked out the power to their doctor’s office. 

Instead, Tamy took Karlee to their local ER at Liberty Hospital in Missouri. The triage nurse thought she was sort of crazy for bringing Karlee to the ER during an ice storm for a "stomachache". The nurse felt Karlee's abdomen, and determined she was more than likely constipated. The plan was to give Karlee an enema and send her home, but the ER doctor decided to do a CT scan. Following the scan, the doctor, a nurse and a chaplain came into Karlee’s room and closed the door. 

Tamy looked at them and said, “You have bad news.” 

The doctor said she had called the chaplain over for both herself and Tamy. “Karlee has a very large tumor,” the doctor explained. “We contacted Children's Mercy. We think it will be the best place for her.” Tamy then called her husband to tell him the news, and Karlee was immediately taken by ambulance to Children's Mercy Hospital during the ice storm. 

The next day, on December 12, Karlee had emergency surgery. Her tumor was resected completely, and she was given an epidural. Two weeks later, she was discharged. She then started her first of 35 rounds of chemotherapy the day after Christmas. At week 20, Karlee started her 16 rounds of abdominal radiation. She had a line infection and finally had to have a feeding tube placed to help her with her severe weight loss. Karlee had 13 blood transfusions during the 42 weeks of treatment and thankfully reached remission. 

Unfortunately, Karlee’s complications didn’t end there. Six months after treatment, Karlee had to have an emergency appendectomy. Then, 10 years later, Karlee entered eighth grade but was diagnosed with full ovarian failure, pre-diabetes and heart failure. She started medication to treat her side effects, and today is a senior in high school. This past summer she started oral surgery for two sinus lifts and to remove four of her permanent molars in preparation for implants due to the damage from chemo. She is also currently on her third three-month trial off her heart medication. 

In the future, Karlee wants to attend William Jewell College and someday own her own business. She hopes to be married and adopt at least three children. 

Karlee endured more in the first three years of her life than most do in their entire lifetime. Being a kid is hard enough without major medical issues, and she is Tamy’s hero because she pushes through each and every long-term side effect that comes at her. They may catch her off guard and come with a lot of tears, but she gets up, dusts herself off and pushes forward. At only five feet tall, she is a fierce force to be reckoned with.  

Sadly, Karlee has lost many of her cancer friends over the years and feels survivors' guilt, but she hopes that she can use her life to help others experience less side effects and better treatment so they can survive and thrive. She signs up for every trial she can to help advance the medical treatment of future childhood cancer patients.  

Tamy shares her daughter’s conviction that research into better treatments will bring about cures for kids with cancer. “It is going to be tough and sometimes you may want to quit, but don't look at the statistics,” Tamy said. “Karlee had a less than 25% chance of survival at diagnosis based on statistics, but she is now 17 and in her senior year of high school. Long-term and short-term side effects can be treated, and it is worth fighting.” 

Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF) is a big advocate for what they believe as well. “ALSF helps to fund research for better treatment, more options and better cures,” said Tamy. “Even since Karlee's diagnosis and treatment, ALSF has learned so much that will help those diagnosed after her and allow them to have fewer side effects, but there is still so much work to be done.” 

Karlee and Tamy help by holding a local lemonade stand every June during Karlee's birthday. Karlee met another survivor in her high school class, and they volunteer at the stand together each year. 

“Broken people aren't weak, they're strong. They're the people who fought like hell.” - Karlee

Information provided by Tamy, Karlee’s mom 
Updated October 2022 

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