Family, friends and countless members of the St. Charles Parish community have rallied around the Growl family, with tens of thousands of dollars recently raised for the family through various fundraisers and donations.
The month of August marked the eight-year anniversary of Kellie Fletcher Growl’s cancer diagnosis. And although recent medical reports are not what she was hoping for, Growl said she is determined to keep a positive mindset.
“At the time of suffering and pain, it is hard to see the good,” she said. “But once you get through the rough season, you look back and see how God’s plan really worked out.”
Growl has been employed with St. Charles Parish Public Schools since 2003.
“I have been a teacher at Luling Elementary School for 17 years,” she said. “Everyone in the school system has been amazingly supportive throughout my cancer journey. I couldn’t ask for a better employer.”
Growl was originally diagnosed in August 2013 with Stage 3b ocular (uveal) melanoma, which is melanoma of the eye’s iris.
“It is a very rare cancer,” she said. “I had my left eye removed to prevent the spread of the cancer and did a year of chemotherapy for preventative measures. Unfortunately, in November 2015 my cancer had metastasized to my liver, lungs and breast.”
Growl sought immunotherapy treatment through MD Anderson Cancer Center in January 2016, and saw her tumors shrink by 75%.
“I have done liver ablations, radio embolization of the liver, immunotherapy, chemotherapy and many different trials over the past eight years,” she said. “This form of cancer is not curable, but with faith, family and the medical field I have already beaten the odds.”
Currently a stage IV metastatic ocular melanoma patient, Growl said recent scans showed that the cancer has spread to soft tissue spots throughout her body, lymph nodes under her arm and chest. The tumors in her liver have also grown.
“I absolutely still believe mindset is half the battle,” she said. “This is not to say that I have not had my fair share of mental and emotional breakdowns … I mean I am human. However, I try not to stay in that place for a long time. When I’m feeling down, I give it to God or turn to family and friends.”
Growl said she and her family have been through a tremendous amount of battles and personal loss in the past eight years, but that she tries to teach her own children, Gavin and Grace, to look for the positives in all situations.
One positive thing in her life, Growl said, is the community she is surrounded by.
“I’m speechless – which for a teacher is rare – at the amount of support and love I have received from the community,” she said. “I have no idea what I did in life to deserve all this, but I will be forever grateful for everything everyone has done for me: selling t-shirts, raffles, donations, meal trains, caroling, cancer support bracelets, other SCPPS staff donating sick days to me, gifts given to my family and so much more. I cannot wait until the day I can pay it forward to others who are in need as well.”
Growl recently announced on Facebook that her doctors have told her that a t cell trial that she will soon begin in Houston is her “last shot.”
“Unfortunately, the cancer has spread tremendously throughout my body,” she wrote. “There are numerous and majorly enlarged tumors in the liver. So if the t cell trial does not work, then there is nothing else medical wise I can do. I know it wasn’t medical alone that has gotten me through this eight-year journey. I know I have many, many prayer warriors who have my back. I beg you now more than ever to flood the heavens with prayers for healing of this deadly disease in my body and for the t cell trial to work.”
Dat Dads’ Club of Luling recently held a benefit steak dinner, and other community organizations have also coordinated benefits and prayer vigils.
Lauren DeRoche of DeRoche Photography said she has been overwhelmed with donations for the family since announcing a benefit photography raffle.
“People have been so overwhelmingly generous,” she said. “Literally my Venmo can’t even catch up it’s coming through so fast … it’s a little insane. It’s almost like a Christmas miracle.”