- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Emily Kim talks about leukemia with a familiarity that should offend anyones sense of fairness. The 6-year-old cancer patient is too young to know what a bad break shes gotten so early in life, but old enough to discuss hair loss, hospital stays and which medications make you vomit.
At the age of 3, the Rockville girl was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Her cancer faded into remission, but she was forced to undergo two-and-a-half years of chemotherapy. Less than a month ago, doctors discovered she had suffered a relapse. Now a bone marrow transplant in the next three months could be her only chance to live beyond childhood.
But aside from a few bruises (common to leukemia patients) and a small bulge under her pink shirt (where a catheter delivers medication directly to her heart), the rambunctious little girl who loves puzzles, drawing and seashells giggles and fusses just like any other child — and never more than when her mother talks about her illness.
"Im tired of hearing that story," she shouts out, throwing her head back on the couch in exaggerated exasperation.
"The hardest part about the first diagnosis is the shock of it," Emilys mother, Kathleen Kim, says. "When she stayed in remission as long as she did, we were really hopeful. But it always stays in the back of your mind."
Em, as her mother calls her, responded well to treatments and was given an 85 percent chance of full recovery by doctors in 1998. She finished kindergarten and began first grade.
Mrs. Kim, 33, an attorney adviser for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and her husband, John Kim, 35, a pharmacist with the National Naval Medical Center, made plans to buy a house. Mrs. Kim became pregnant with the couples second child.
Toward the beginning of April, Emilys parents again started noticing bruises on her body. Teachers told the Kims that Emily seemed tired in classes. The Kims recognized the signs.
This time, doctors said the cancer had spread to Emilys central nervous system. They would begin an aggressive course of chemotherapy, but it wouldnt be enough. She would have to have a bone marrow transplant.
Since resuming her regimen of chemotherapy three weeks ago, Emily has gained almost 10 pounds because of steroids. Shes been moody, more frequently depressed, and her hair has just begun to fall out. Her mother says that part hurts the most. After two-and-a-half years of chemotherapy, the little girl admired Britney Spears hair and took satisfaction in being able to wear ribbons and barrettes.
Now her parents wince when they see strands of her hair in the shower.
"I think its a lot harder on her this time than the last time," Mrs. Kim says. "At 3, they dont really argue with you. Theyll do anything you want. At 6, she wants to know everything."
On April 24, three weeks after learning of her daughters relapse, Mrs. Kim gave birth to John Matthew Kim, or Jack.
The Kims retrieved the umbilical cord and are in the process of a three-week wait to see if Jacks stem cells are compatible for Emily.
The Kims also organized a series of local bone marrow donor drives to screen for potential matches. They advertise others on their Web site at www.swainslock.8m.com /emily/emilyhomepage.html .
But the chances of finding a donor outside the family are 100,000 to one.
And the fact that the Kims are Korean-Americans doesnt help. The National Bone Marrow Registry, which numbers about 6 million, contains notoriously few minorities.
In a momentary lapse of her composure, Mrs. Kim — who says she usually cries only when shes alone — said she wont be defeated by the odds.
"I dont even know if its called praying," Mrs. Kim said. "Its just begging that she will be cured and live a happy and healthy life after this."


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