Emma Poplin-Revels: The smiling face of community giving

jmarks@lakewyliepilot.comSeptember 24, 2013 

— Derek Revels seems more lottery winner than pediatric cancer parent.

Sitting at home during an early evening with his wife and two daughters, maybe he’s both.

“If you wanted your kid to have cancer, the stars really lined up for us,” said the Fort Mill data analyst.

Of course, neither he nor his wife, Elizabeth, wanted anything like what happened to Emma almost two years ago. Halfway between her first and second birthdays, Emma got sick. The diagnosis came two days after Christmas. Doctors called it acute lymphocytic leukemia.

Treatment began. Elizabeth felt like she had to stop parenting sister Ashlynn, who just started kindergarten this year, to keep pace. Emma quickly earned her “Curveball Queen” nickname for the struggles atypical to her cancer. There was the fungal infection and several problems with her medical port. There were extra surgeries.

Emma’s parents fought hard to find the bright side even in the darkest moments. Elizabeth began staying home when Emma was born, so the family was used to one paycheck. Grandparents on both sides just retired or moved close to the family. Levine Children’s Hospital sat right up the road.

Elizabeth knew nothing would be the same after the diagnosis, but was thankful for the time before it.

“I got to have some time with her before she was sick,” Elizabeth said.

About Emma

Emma, 3, is her big sister’s shadow. They share favorite colors and favorite stories, whichever Ashlynn picks at a given time. They’re almost inseparable. Emma is learning kindergarten lessons Ashlynn brings home, like how to write the letter “C”, “and sometimes an occasional ‘O,’” mom says.

“Too bad we didn’t name her Coco,” Elizabeth said.

There’s plenty to Emma beyond her sister. She loves pickles and dancing. She’s attentive. Her smile could unlock bank vaults, and she isn’t shy about using it. There’s a neighborhood friend she won’t quite call a boyfriend – yet.

If Emma is delicate, she doesn’t know it. The soft cast on her right hand isn’t cancer-related. It’s reenactment-related. A coffee table came a little too close in a living room couch rendition of the “no more monkeys jumping on the bed” scene from a favorite book.

Her parents weren’t racing to sign up for a broken hand. But they know there are worse things than a child energetic enough to jump on the couch. Some parents lament their children acting like 3-year-olds. Elizabeth calls it the “biggest blessing ever.”

Brighter days

The Revels family hasn’t won an actual lottery. But if ever they do, the winning numbers might be 04, 11, 20 and 14.

If all goes as well as it has so far, April 11, 2014, is the date when Emma will take her last cancer treatment. It’s a Friday. It’s the first afternoon of spring break. And it’ll be a “party like rock stars” event to rival even the one coming Sunday in Lake Wylie.

“It was awesome,” Derek said of learning Emma would be this year’s recipient of Lake Wylie Children’s Charity fundraising. “It’s nice that there are organizations out there that help families that need it.”

From noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, scores of volunteers will put on a lakeside concert and silent auction beside T-Bones on the Lake. It’ll be the 11th year helping families facing cancer. The largest of five major events throughout the year, the concert will help collect what annually totals tens of thousands of dollars.

At planning meetings, Elizabeth heard constant updates of past families, which mean as much to her as a check will. For her, it means people who didn’t know her family a year ago, truly care.

“They don’t stop supporting the kids once the benefit is over,” Elizabeth said.

Despite the strong outlook, life is still a “really weird balancing act and we have fallen several times,” Elizabeth said. Just this month, they spent a week with bags packed for the hospital because of a high fever.

But the family can’t help smiling. Maybe it’s the medicine, the hours mom has for her girls, family nearby, the renowned pediatric unit, the type of cancer or the blindsiding community support. The family knew there would be nothing normal about a cancer diagnosis. As it turns out, it may not be the worst news they could’ve heard.

“We’ve given up on normal,” Elizabeth said.

“We’ve never really gotten too comfortable in trying to define this as normal.”

Want to go?

The Lake Wylie Children’s Charity benefit concert begins at noon Sunday on the lawn at T-Bones on the Lake, 3990 S.C. 9, Lake Wylie. For information about the event, visit lkwchildrenscharity.org.

More ways to help

Anytime Fitness will hold its second annual Super Hero 5K & Kids 1-mile Fun Run at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 12 to benefit the Lake Wylie Children’s Charity. 5K registration costs $25, while the fun run is $10. Register at Anytime Fitness-Lake Wylie, 131 Evergreen Road, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday or 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, or online at active.com. Same-day registration will be available. Visit lkwchildrenscharity.org for more information.

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