Four-year-old Ashley Allen and 8-year-old Justin Richardson have a lot in common. Far too much in common.
Both live in Payson. Both are battling cancer. Both have lost their hair to extensive chemotherapy. Both are facing the unknown.
But despite all they've been through and all the struggles still to come, both are still capable of laughter, giggles, and smiles roughly as wide as the Grand Canyon and bright as the sun.
Because of their disorders -- Ashley has undergone two surgeries for brain tumors, Justin has leukemia -- and the fund-raising events organized by friends, neighbors and total strangers who want to help, these children have become good friends.
But make no mistake; the relationship is strictly platonic, as evidenced at a recent photo shoot where they flatly refused to hug each other or -- yeccch! -- kiss.
The event which brought them together at Payson Bowl Wednesday evening was a raffle organized by Bobbi Hlavacek and Roadrunner Rubbish, which added $911 to the $7,300 collected through their earlier efforts to help Justin and Ashley, who was just added to fund-raisers.
For this raffle, the items included a 7mm Mauser rifle donated by Dr. Lorenzo Gonzales (and won by Betty Schahrer), a veterinary certificate good for yearly exams and vaccinations (won by Mary Jones), a haircut at the Twin Pines Barber Shop (won by F. Tarallo), $50 worth of tires or machine work from SJW Tires (won by Dale Struemke), and one water sample testing, valued at $50, courtesy of Aero Drilling & Pumps, Inc. (won by Bret Zekoff and Jack Buchea).
"The response has been amazing," Hlavacek said of the fund-raisers. "But we need to do more."
In other words, unfortunately, these twin dramas are ongoing.
Justin was originally diagnosed at the age of three. After his first lengthy encounters with chemotherapy, his leukemia was believed to have gone into permanent remission.
But last November, it resurfaced, and now Justin must undergo chemo treatments one or two days every week for the next two years, from two to eight hours at a time, his father Gary Richardson said. He is now believed to be in remission again.
Ashley was first diagnosed with a brain tumor last November, and has since undergone two operations to have it removed. Although her doctors believe they got all of the "primitive ectoplasmic tumor" in January, they can take no chances.
Today, Ashley will undergo an MRI scan. If the results are positive, as expected, she will go to Tucson Tuesday to have bone marrow removed in preparation for seven days of what her mother, Tracy, calls "pretty intense chemotherapy" starting around March 13.
Since chemo depletes the body of healthy bone marrow, Tracy explained, the supply taken from Ashley before the therapy will be replaced two days afterwards and allowed to replenish itself within her body.
After that, Ashley's doctors expect her to be "very sick for a couple of weeks," Tracy said, as the bone marrow starts growing again and her immune system returns to normal. She is expected to be hospitalized from three to six weeks.
To help both of these children by donating items for auctions or raffles, or in any other way, call Bobbi Hlavacek at 472-7498.
To make monetary donations to Justin Richardson, contact the SAFCU Federal Credit Union in Twin Pines Shopping Center, 512 Beeline Highway, Payson. And monetary donations for Ashley Allen can be deposited at Compass Bank, account number 76206740.