BY REID IFORD, TUALATIN LIFE
In many ways, Samantha “Sammy” Hatting is a typical little Tualatin second-grader. She just turned eight years old, and her bedroom is filled with Barbie dolls. But in some way she’s little different. Instead of the usual Disney princesses, her bedspread is adorned with monkeys. Sammy loves monkeys. And while she frequently likes to do makeup and nails, she also likes to roughhouse and play laser tag with her big brother Ryan.
And Sammy is different in one other way. She possesses the sort of courage that would make a United States Marine proud. Sammy has cancer, leukemia to be precise. And for the last five months she has been undergoing a grueling ordeal of chemotherapy treatments. But as you learn in this story, far from being a victim, Sammy is taken control of her life and even at the worst times she reaches out to help other sick children at the hospital.
Sammy received her diagnoses of leukemia September 4, 2016, just as she was ready to start the second grade. She been looking forward to school, and was so devastated by the many negative changes in her life the events of this day are the one thing she will not discuss with people.
“We were just a happy family, before Sammy got sick,” explains her mother Jessica Christina. “Of course we had our bumps in the road, losing my mom to breast cancer in July 2015. She fought that for six years. She and Sammy were best friends, and that was heartbreaking to Sammy. As we got her okay with that, and she moved on and was ready for school, she got diagnosed. As soon as we told her, her eyes got huge, thinking it was going to be just like her grandmother’s, and we had to explain it wasn’t. Once she realized it wasn’t the same, she was all right with it. She looked at me and her doctors and said ‘let’s get these blood icky’s out of me, mommy.’
“The thing that scared me the most was knowing the battle she would have to go through, like watching my mom go through,” says Jessica. “It was just brutal. Worse than what the leukemia makes her go through is the chemotherapy. The medicine is so strong, it’s just insane.”
Sammy must repeatedly endure nonstop 24-hour intravenous delivery of the powerful chemotherapy drugs. She is exhausted after this, but literally as soon as she feels better she must go in for another dose. And this is repeated over and over and over. And yet all who know her say Sammy is the strongest one in the family, demonstrating a stoic attitude and simply accepting what she must endure.
“Watching her lose her hair, she was fine with it,” says Jessica. “She didn’t have a problem in the world with it. I had to go behind closed doors and bawl my eyes out.”
Although Jessica brought the children with her and she began her relationship with Aaron Fitzhenry six years ago, she begins sobbing when she describes how much Aaron loves the children, and the sacrifices he makes so she can devote all her time to caring for Sammy and her son Ryan. Aaron works in heavy construction, and he frequently travels away from home to take every job he can get to support his family, cover the mounting bills, and allow Jessica to not work.
“Aaron just loves Sammy,” says Jessica. “He loves both the kids. He’s always there. They just love each other. He’s wonderful.” There is a long pause as she tries to compose yourself. “I couldn’t have found a better guy to be there for me and my kids.”
“I want to say that Sammy is definitely going to win this battle, and that’s what I can tell you,” says Aaron. “I can’t tell you enough how much I love her. She’s a sweetheart and everybody loves her. Everybody she’s ever been around she has touched in some way. She’s just a sweet little girl. I’m just praying and praying and praying for a good result in this battle she’s going through.”
Jessica and Aaron wanted to thank the entire staff at Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland, who they say could not be more wonderful, compassionate, and professional in Sammy’s treatment. They said the people at Randall not only provide Sammy with medical treatment, but do so in a compassionate way that shows they care deeply not only for Sammy, but for her entire family
Despite all she’s going through herself, when she is at Randall Sammy reaches out to any child she sees suffering, and especially the new children who are just beginning their treatments and are obviously very afraid. When she saw how frightened one little girl was, Sammy went up and took her hand and asked if she wanted to go to the play room with her, telling the child there were Barbies and a big dollhouse. The two girls played together as long as their health allowed.
Sammy’s big brother Ryan just turned 13, but for the last five months he’s acted a lot more like he’s 20. Ryan insists on going to the hospital and Sammy is having her procedures, so he can be there for her. With Aaron at work so much and Jessica devoting her time to Sammy and often away at the hospital, Ryan stays strong for his sister, and has taken on far more responsibility than could ever be expected from such a young man. He’s working hard to maintain his grades so his parents don’t have to worry about anything but caring for Sammy. Ryan says he’ll do anything he can to help his little sister get better.
“She’s sweet,” says Ryan. “Even through all of this, every now and then she’ll come into my room and say ’do you want to play?’”
Jessica says a really big factor in helping the family at this time is the support they receive from the people of Tualatin, including students, parents and teachers at the children’s schools, Byrom Elementary and Hazelbrook Middle School.
“Tualatin is like no other place,” explains Jessica. “Everyone knows their neighbors, and cares about them. I go into a store and five people come up to me and ask how is Samantha. At Byrom they are absolutely wonderful, and call to check up on her all the time. It’s the whole community. It just feels good to know they are there. This really opens your eyes to how lucky we are to live here. We chose to go to Tualatin to raise our kids. The school district is wonderful, the community is wonderful, and our neighbors are wonderful. We couldn’t ask for better neighbors. Tualatin is a great, safe place for the kids to grow up,” says Jessica.