Jared Soares | The Roanoke Times
Danny Foster and his daughter Kassidy share a laugh Wednesday afternoon at Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital. Kassidy, who used to compete in gymnastics, recently had her right leg amputated.
CHECK -- Kassidy Foster was always full of life. Now, the 12-year-old Floyd County girl is fighting just to stay alive.
A gymnast who used to practice 20 hours a week at Virginia Techniques in Christiansburg, Kassidy had her right leg amputated May 3 when a malignant tumor began to take over her right knee.
The sixth-grader at Check Elementary School is receiving chemotherapy at Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital for osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in children.
Physicians don't know if the treatments can save her life; the cancer has spread to Kassidy's rib cage, left knee and lungs.
"We don't know how people keep going if they don't have God in their lives," said Tammy Foster, Kassidy's mother. "If you don't have that faith, who do you turn to?"
Kassidy is the third child from Floyd County with cancer the community has rallied around in the past six months.
In December, 3-year-old Joshua Cantrell and 4-year-old Chance Harman were both diagnosed with brain tumors. Joshua died Feb. 26 at Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center in Durham, N.C., of complications from brain cancer.
Chance's tumors, meanwhile, are responding to treatments and he has less than 100 days left of scheduled chemotherapy.
All three families are already connected through Floyd County basketball. Joshua was the grandson of girls' basketball coach Alan Cantrell. Chance is the son of Floyd County boys' basketball coach Brian Harman.
Kassidy's father, Danny Foster, is a Virginia High School League official who refereed games in Floyd County last year. Tammy Foster played on Cantrell's team that made it to the state tournament in 1985.
"It's a circle there that's kind of unique," Danny Foster said.
He and Brian Harman were just acquaintances before Kassidy was diagnosed. The two men now exchange text messages every night.
"It's good to be able to have someone going through the same thing we're going through that we can relate to," Foster said. "I don't know if it's good ... but I guess you could say it's good. It helps."
Kassidy's symptoms began in January, when she complained of knee pain during a gymnastics competition in Orlando, Fla. Her parents had little reason for concern.
"In gymnastics, you have aches and pains anyway," said Tammy Foster, who works as an X-ray technician at the Carilion Breast Care Center in Roanoke. "We didn't think anything about it. It would swell, but we would put ice on it and it would go back down."
As a precaution, Kassidy visited an orthopedic doctor, who said she had likely injured a ligament and recommended two weeks of physical therapy.
After completing that therapy, Kassidy was accidentally kicked in the knee on the playground. Two days later, she could barely walk because of the pain. Doctors recommended an MRI.
On March 29, a biopsy at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond confirmed what that MRI found: osteosarcoma had infused Kassidy's right femur near the knee. She would need 40 weeks of chemotherapy.
Now, Kassidy needs a miracle.
When the pain and swelling in her right knee grew worse, the Fosters returned to MCV. There, the news grew worse: the tumor had taken over the knee and Kassidy's right leg had to be amputated for her to live.
Kassidy agreed to the surgery.
"She's probably one of the strongest-willed little girls I've been around just to endure this type of challenge," said Samantha Edwards, one of Kassidy's former gymnastics instructors. "I've told her before she is a little hero."
Now on nine medications and a feeding tube, Kassidy sleeps about 20 hours a day. She was readmitted to Carilion in Roanoke on Monday for stronger chemotherapy that doctors hope will affect the tumors.
"We know that God never promised us more than we can handle," Danny Foster said. "I think that with us having trials and tribulations in our life it makes us draw closer to him. Am I mad at him? Are we mad at him? No. If Kassidy loses this fight she's in, I still don't think we'll be mad at him."
Floyd County residents have united in raising thousands of dollars and saying thousands of prayers over the past few months. Today at Check Elementary School, 25 students are expected to shave their heads to raise money for Kassidy.
"You wonder why us?" said Jeff Dalton, chief investigator with the Floyd County Sheriff's Office. "Why are we getting bombarded with it? I think God knows we're strong. He knows we'll come together and be one big family."
The Floyd County family has grown much larger in recent days.
The Fosters say they have received money in the mail from anonymous friends and cards from strangers. Friends have packed the family refrigerator with food, offered to mow the Foster's yard and built the family a porch that makes it easier to move Kassidy in and out of the house.
The Harmans continue to feel the community behind them, too.
"We went over to the mall one day and I saw a lady that I didn't know and ... she saw Chance and I could see her turn and hit her husband and she's like, 'That's Chance Harman,' " Brian Harman said. "I could just see how she was pulling for us to win just as much as we are. To know that that love and support is in the New River Valley and all over and even outside of the state of Virginia keeps us going."
The same faith the Harmans and Cantrells have clung to is now keeping the Fosters going. And hoping for Kassidy's recovery.
"I think that she's going to stand in front of people whether it's at Check Elementary, whether it's at Floyd County High School or whether it's at Virginia Tech graduation one day telling people her story and the way God's healed her body," Danny Foster said. "We believe that God's got a plan for her and we believe that his plan is going to be shown on Earth through her. That's Kassidy's motto: 'I believe.' "