For one glorious week last summer, Carly Allphin was able to forget about the cancer deep in her bones.
Now 16, Carly is the daughter of Andy and Krista Allphin of Stafford County and the big sister to five siblings. Last August, the whole family—except dad, who plays trumpet with the U.S. Army Band—frolicked with others at Camp Sunshine, a retreat in the middle of Maine.
Carly was able to swim and flip over canoes, talk and play card games with other kids.
“It was so nice to leave cancer behind for a week,” she said.
When she and her mom found out that Tropical Smoothie Café paid their way, they couldn’t believe the coincidence.
“We almost died laughing,” the mom said, “because Tropical Smoothie was one of the few things that kept her alive during chemo. She’d barf her guts out, and I’d say, ‘Carly, what can I do for you?’ and she’d moan, ‘Just get me a Tropical Smoothie.’ ”
On Friday, the 12 Tropical Smoothies in the Fredericksburg area will give away free Sunshine Smoothies from 2 to 7 p.m. to anyone wearing flip–flops. In return, customers are asked to donate to Camp Sunshine.
The café has raised more than $5.3 million since 2007 on National Flip–Flop Day and hopes to raise $1 million on Friday to send 400 families to camp.
“Carly’s story shows amazing strength and courage,” said Mike Rotondo, chief executive officer of Tropical Smoothie. “Her story is a powerful example of Camp Sunshine’s impact, and why we hope to help send more families there.”
‘THIS WAS MY LIFE’
Carly lived off liquefied bananas, mangoes and pineapples on days when she couldn’t keep anything else down. And she had lots of those days in the months after her 14th birthday, when the family celebrated with a visit to New York City.
The group did a lot of walking, and Carly thought the exertion had made her back hurt.
Problems persisted, and numerous tests and treatments offered no diagnosis or help. Four months later, in February 2016, a scan showed nine tumors.
The biggest was softball-sized, sitting between the two lowest vertebrae in her back. Others were clustered in her hips, pelvis, upper spine and brain stem.
Carly was diagnosed with stage 4 Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare, fast-growing bone cancer that had been undetectable to that point. Tumors were intermingled with tissue and couldn’t be removed, so she underwent 14 rounds of chemotherapy and 70 radiation treatments.
“It threw me for a loop but forced me to grow up a little bit. Well, a lot,” Carly admitted. “This was not just something you see on TV or hear about. This was my life.”
LOW SURVIVAL RATES
For 19 months, Carly and her mother spent more time at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., or the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia than at home.
Carly also started an experimental drug, which continues to keep the cancer at bay. She’s been in remission since April 2017, and the five-year survival rate for Ewing’s patients whose tumors have spread is less than 30 percent.
“The farther we get away from remission, the greater the chances of her not relapsing,” her mother said.
Early on, Carly could do little more than sit in her hospital bed and stare at the walls as she tried to take in the devastating diagnosis.
“I feel like we lost her for a little bit,” her mother said. “But the support system at Walter Reed was so awesome, and let us know that it was totally normal for her to feel like her world was closing in.”
“Because it was,” Carly said.
When two resident doctors visited—and politely asked her parents to leave—Carly was able to laugh, cry and confess her deepest fears. So much was beyond her control, except the way she could respond to it.
She realized she could wallow in her sorrow—and there was plenty of misery, especially when one round of radiation made her throw up 47 times—or she could make the most of the situation.
“What am I gonna do?” she asked herself. “I’m gonna live.”
FROM LOST TO LIVING
Her mom did things to distract her, such as order the whole TV series, “Full House,” so the two could find something to laugh about on the worst days. Others noticed how often Carly smiled.
“Doctors and nurses would say to me all the time, we’ve never seen a teenager like this,” the mom said. “She’s happy, she’s cheerful. A lot of times, kids just want to pull the covers over their heads.”
Carly has found ways to live it up.
When she was confined to a wheelchair, she popped wheelies.
She had water balloon fights with other pediatric patients, arranged by a hospital social worker.
She got her driver’s license a few weeks ago, and Kings Dominion will be a favorite destination this summer.
Walking through the park is too taxing because her hips continue to cause pain. Blood supply to them was cut off during treatment, and they’ll eventually get so bad, she’ll need replacements.
In the meantime, Carly takes a wheelchair to the amusement park. Then, she gets up and stands in line to ride roller coasters, including the new Twisted Timbers.
“It is so fun,” she said, smiling, adding that the only downside is “the line takes forever.”
‘SHE’S A ROCK STAR’
Carly just finished her sophomore year at Brooke Point High School, where she’s gotten all A’s.
Desiree Panyard was her homebound teacher during the most intensive part of Carly’s treatment and was impressed with how she handled herself.
“I cannot imagine everything she went though last year, but her ability to also keep up with her school work was one of the most impressive feats of determination I have ever seen in a young person,” Panyard said.
Carly keeps busy. She’s president of the youth group at the Stafford Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints. She gives piano lessons to younger kids and continues to take them herself.
She also plays the French horn, mellophone (a brass instrument) and ukulele and participates in her school’s marching band, wind ensemble and symphonic band.
She’d like to be a child life specialist and provide hospitalized kids the kind of emotional support she got in Philadelphia and Bethesda.
“It changed my life,” she said.
Carly enjoyed taking Brooke Point’s early childhood education class, where she taught kids ages 3–5. It was an expanded version of her home life, where her younger siblings range in age from 11 to 3.
She’s happy to watch them, but mom doesn’t abuse the “resident babysitter.” She wants to make sure Carly, who’s already been through so much, gets a chance to act her age.
“She’s a rock star,” her mother said.