By BOB MUDGE
VENICE — Kinsley Peacock has turned her love of baking into a way to raise money to help provide some comfort to kids with cancer.
She knows they need it because she was one of them just months ago. Early this year she lost her right eye to retinoblastoma.
She had just turned 5.
Her parents, Adam and Kim, had taken her to the doctor in early December because the eye was red. When it was still red after a week of treatment for pink eye, they took her to the family ophthalmologist, who diagnosed a detached retina.
It might be the result of trauma, they were told. But it also could have been caused by a tumor.
The same day they consulted a pediatric ophthalmologist at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, in St. Petersburg, who confirmed the detached retina by ultrasound and ruled out a tumor to a 99% certainty “only because I never tell anyone 100%,” Adam recalled.
Relieved, they then took Kinsley to a pediatric retina specialist at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, in Miami, for a consult about reattaching the retina. After a second ultrasound, a tumor was ruled out again.
That was Dec. 18.
The next day Kinsley was put under anesthesia so the specialist could evaluate the prospect of reattaching the retina. He found an advance-stage retinoblastoma — a rare cancer of the eye that occurs most commonly in children under age 5.
The news “totally blindsided” them, Adam said. In just 12 hours they went from “no tumor” to an extremely serious one.
“You’re not really able to process what they’re saying,” he said. “Retinoblastoma — what does that mean?”
One of the things they did know was that the 8-year-old daughter of a friend had died from brain cancer.
‘A very sick eye’
After a sleepless night they met with an ocular oncologist — an eye cancer specialist — and a pediatric oncologist. Kinsley would be undergoing chemotherapy and laser treatment, not surgery to reattach her retina.
There was no way to shield her from that, but even now they don’t mention “cancer” in front of her, Kim said.
“She knew she had a very sick eye,” she said.
And the staff at Nicklaus was so supportive that Kinsley would look forward to her hospital visits, she said.
Her attitude gave them the strength to deal with her condition, they said.
Kinsley spent 10 days at All Children’s after the first round of chemo caused side effects. Her eye hemorrhaged after the second round even though the tumor had shrunk by 70%.
By then everything was pointing to removal of the eye — enucleation — and implantation of a prosthetic eye as the best course of action.
The operation took place a month after her birthday.
Kinsley was “running through the hallway hours later,” Adam said.
She would undergo more rounds of chemo but tests showed the cancer was completely contained in the eye that was removed.
She “rang the bell” to indicate the end of her treatment on April 26.
Kinsley goes for a checkup every three months and an MRI every six months. Her 3-year-old brother gets checked too, because retinoblastoma can be genetic, though more often it’s “sporadic.”
She’s considered very low risk for a recurrence of cancer. The only concession to the loss of an eye is that she wears glasses, but just to protect her good eye, which has perfect vision.
“We’re on edge just seeing her walk around with pencils,” Adam said.
Other than that, and the occasional need to have her prosthetic eye adjusted, “she’s doing phenomenal,” he said.
Kim, however, is still recovering.
“To this day I can’t really talk about it,” she said while fighting back tears. “One complaint about a scratched knee and my mind goes to the worst place ever.”
Selling cookies was Kinsley’s idea.
During her chemo treatments the family largely lived in quarantine to protect her from anything that could make her sick while her immune system was suppressed.
For six months that meant virtually no work for mom and dad, who turned their business, StrataPT, a physical therapy billing and records company, over to their employees.
“Thankfully, we have an awesome team here,” Adam said.
To occupy their time “we did a lot of baking,” he said. “She loves to bake.”
At first the cookies were just packaged and delivered to neighbors, family, friends and Kinsley’s school.
Then she asked her dad to make her a cart so she could sell cookies and raise money to help other cancer kids.
“She’s always had an extremely kind heart,” Adam said.
‘Whatever your heart desires’
The Peacocks formed a foundation, Kinsley’s Cookie Cart, even before she rang the bell.
“It was a no-brainer to us that we wanted to give back,” Kim said. “It was God’s calling to us.”
Their plan is to grow the foundation along the lines of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, which has raised millions nationally since it was created in 2005.
“We’re don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon,” Alex said.
He even envisions Kinsley being able to step in to lead it in 20 years or so.
By taking the cart to “pop-up” events they’ve already raised $40,000.
Some of the money has bought iPads, blankets and glasses for kids undergoing treatment. Some will go to spread awareness about pediatric cancer. Some will go to cancer research.
“Kids need better, less toxic treatment options,” said Adam, noting that only three new drugs to fight pediatric cancer have been approved since 1984.
Some will help families dealing with the financial impact of a child’s cancer diagnosis.
The bills for Kinsley’s treatment were “astronomical,” he said.
A lot of cookies are needed for a pop-up event, so they come from Publix, not the family oven, these days. But Kinsley and her friends decorate with sprinkles donated by a manufacturer and package them.
They’re technically not for sale, though. They’re a thank-you for making a donation to the foundation.
The minimum amount, Kinsley tells potential donors, is “whatever your heart desires.”