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Special bracelets help comfort Fort Smith girl as she battles leukemia
By Scott Smith, Times Record email@example.com
The mention of rock star John Mayer pushes Palmer Richardson's cheekbones high near her eyes with a grin.
Mayer's throaty voice and guitar playing are just two small comforts for the 12-year-old Fort Smith girl as she battles acute myelocytic leukemia. This form of leukemia, also known as AML, makes up about 15 percent of leukemia cases and is diagnosed in about 500 children annually, said Palmer's father, Scott Richardson.
"Palmer was diagnosed in February, and almost immediately, she started taking the chemotherapy treatments at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock," he said.
Palmer's pediatrician, Dr. Fred DeMirando, caught the AML and sent her to Dr. Kimo Stine, an oncologist at Arkansas Children's Hospital said Palmer's mother, Lori Ann Richardson.
"The doctors said that the AML hadn't been there long, maybe a week," Scott Richardson said. "We were thankful that it was caught early."
Prior to the diagnosis, Palmer complained to her family about a small bump on her neck. That's when she was examined by doctors and instructed to take the chemotherapy.
It's been tough on Palmer because she takes five-, eight- and 10-day treatments, so those are pretty intense," said Lori Ann Richardson.
But there seems to be no visual evidence of AML when watching Palmer's light-colored eyes sparkle as she discusses her allegiance to Mayer's current run at the pop charts and one of her favorite movies, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding." And she laughs out loud whenever she tunes into actor Drew Carey's antics on TV's "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"
While hanging out at home Wednesday with her parents and siblings, Hayden, Baker and Sutton, Palmer seems at ease on the outside, letting the love of her family, her trying, lengthy chemotherapy treatments and the "Pray for Palmer" bracelets circulating among the community hold the leukemia at bay.
"It makes me feel good and happy when people wear these bracelets," said Palmer, herself wearing one of the colored bracelets.
Seconds later, Baker strolled by, wearing six of the bracelets on his left arm.
"It makes it easier when people are thinking about me," Palmer said.
Palmer's sister, Hayden, came up with the idea to give bracelets to friends, schools, churches, businesses and strangers after hearing about similar bracelets for Lance Armstrong. Scott Richardson stepped in, initially ordering 5,000 bracelets from a Chicago-based company to spread the rubber-band-like bracelets throughout Fort Smith.
"But then we ordered 10,000 more, and we've sent them out to people," Scott Richardson said. "We are accepting $2 donations for the bracelets, but if people just want the bracelets, we can give them that, too."
Available at George's Restaurant, Inscriptions and at Palmer's web site, www.palmerrichardson.com, the bracelets are spreading like wildfire in the community, he said.
"What's great is seeing the kids go nuts for the bracelets, and you see people wearing them, and they have a Palmer story to tell," Scott Richardson said. "And if they don't know who Palmer is, they go on to her Web site and learn about her. Then they tell other people about Palmer."
To date, the bracelets have raised about $3,500 to help Palmer's family with medical and travel expenses.
"People wearing the bracelets and talking about it makes me feel good," said Palmer, a long-time dancer at Western Arkansas Ballet Co. "It helps me feel good."
She also feels pretty good when friends come to visit.
"I feel much butter when I'm here at home with family and friends," she said. "That helps a lot."
Not only does Palmer receive all-night and all-day verbal and emotional support from family and friends, she is in the thoughts of numerous famous people. Somewhat mysteriously, she has received autographed photographs from musical artists Zeogirl, Rachel Lamp, Nicole C. Mullen and Jump 5, as well as her personal favorite piece of memorabilia, a signed picture of actor Brad Pitt.
"We think someone got on the Web site and then contacted someone in Nashville," Lori Ann Richardson said.
To the surprise of Palmer, she also received a letter from former President Bill Clinton.
"That letter came in early, like in February," Scott Richardson said. "And we've heard that there's one in the works from President Bush."
Arriving in Palmer's mailbox alongside the encouraging letters and autographed photos have been gift cards to restaurants, stores and gas stations.
"It's been great; all of this support," Palmer said.
Scott Richardson agreed.
"It's amazing how this community has helped by spreading the bracelets and giving the gift cards and bringing over meals," he said. "It's been difficult having, essentially, a household here and one in Little Rock during Palmer's treatments. We stay with friends while we're in Little Rock, and they have been wonderful."