MONETA – After multiple doctors’ visits and months of medications for extreme headaches that weren’t doing the trick, Tonya McGuire took her 17-year-old daughter, Melanie, to Roanoke Memorial Hospital’s emergency room and demanded she have a CAT scan.
Melanie, a sophomore and varsity cheerleader at Staunton River High School, suffered the headaches since the start of last September. Diagnosed with migraines and given steroids that only temporarily subsided the pain, she couldn’t shake it, McGuire said.
“After she finished taking the steroids, the headaches came back with a vengeance,” McGuire said. “She couldn’t get any relief.”
Doctors showed opposition to a scan, not wanting Melanie to experience radiation, McGuire said. After weeks of more pain and weight loss, McGuire said she took a 96-pound Melanie back to the emergency room, demanded the scan and wasn’t leaving until her daughter received it.
“She was miserable, you could look and her and tell she wasn’t her vibrant, happy, cheerful self,” McGuire said. “I felt so frustrated.”
The scan found a rare tumor called “pilocytic astrocytoma.” It occurs more often in children and young adults, according to the Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.
Melanie had surgery to remove it on Jan. 11. Medical bills have since poured in and insurance does not cover it all, McGuire said. The family expects the surgery will cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I’ll probably have to get a job just to pay off the bills, but I’m just focused on Melanie right now,” said McGuire.
In an effort to help to the family, the Bedford County community is rallying behind Melanie in creative fashion.
On Sunday, the Staunton River Cheer Boosters partnered with VA Paint Party, LLC for a painting party event at Bottoms Up Bar & Grill in Moneta to raise money for her medical expenses.
Eager to help, each painter was charged $30 to participate, a portion of which was collected for the McGuire family. A couple dozen showed up to paint and received guidance from instructors through a step-by-step process in creating their own work of art.
Supporters are working to rally the community through various fundraisers, including T-shirt sales, raffles and silent auctions, said Billi Hutchings, Melanie’s cheerleading coach.
The original goal was to raise $1,000 but SRHS Cheer Booster President Dorina Drewry is confident they will exceed that.
Hutchings said Melanie is extremely bright, bubbly and the “jokester” of the cheerleading team.
“She’s kind of a prankster, always making jokes and having fun at practice,” she said.
McGuire said she didn’t have time to react when she learned of her daughter’s diagnosis.
“I was in shock, my legs turned to Jell-O,” McGuire said. “I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t do anything. I was looking at Melanie to see her reaction. She was in shock as well. We thought, ‘Is this for real?’”
McGuire said Melanie has never complained about her condition and has been “very strong.”
“She had this thing in her head for so long and was able to take exams and pass them,” she said of the tumor.
Melanie is recovering and will not return to school for at least two months but thanks to help from the school will not be held back, according to McGuire.
Hutchings said the cheerleading team is handling Melanie’s absence but has had a lot of questions.
“The varsity team has been having the hardest time because they’re the closest,” she said. “Some of them have been best friends with her since elementary school. It’s been tough on the school. We have sent cards home so she knows everyone is thinking of her.”
Kent Lacy, property development manager for Bottoms Up Bar & Grill and owner Tim Byers owner, said they use their restaurant as often as they can for a good cause.
“We sponsor the [Staunton River] football team and cheerleaders. We send them food before a big event,” Lacy said. “Anything they want, we take care of them.”
Lacy said they will do anything for a kid in need.
“It’s not about us, it’s about helping people in the community and we love being a part of it,” he said.
Tammy Mini, a parent of a SRHS freshman who painted a canvas at Sunday’s event, said she wanted to help a family in need.
“We know Melanie through the community and see her cheering. I don’t know them personally but I do know they are great people from what I hear,” she said.
She especially liked the idea of a fundraiser that brings people together for a fun activity.
“I said to myself, ‘this could be my son’ and the way people rallied around Melanie’s family, it really puts things into perspective that people really do want to be help each other and I think this community and this world needs more of this – more positivity in it,” Mini said.
McGuire said she wishes she could send a ‘thank you’ card to every person who has supported her daughter but she would run out of money for stamps.
“We are humbled and overwhelmed with love and appreciation for the people who have been there for us,” she said, adding: “I just stand amazed at the support …They’ll never know what it has meant to us.”
Melanie hopes to make a full recovery and return to cheering as soon as possible, McGuire said. One of McGuire’s goals this year is to “pay it forward” after seeing the outpouring of supporter for her daughter, who she described as her inspiration.
“The fact that the community rallied behind her, it humbles me and shows me that people really do care about other people,” McGuire said.