Claire Broadhead, 10, of California looks over the books she has chosen… (Reid Silverman/The Enterprise )
The Friends of the St. Mary’s County Library book sale March 17 and 18 at the county fairgrounds raised more than $31,000 to support children’s programs and the purchase of new equipment and books for the system’s three branches.
Typically, only members of the organization are allowed to shop early the Friday before the sale, but one girl was treated to shopping spree with her family that Thursday, before anyone else had the chance to peruse the thousands of titles donated by county residents and libraries.
Claire Broadhead, 10, of California said the book sale is the equivalent of an amusement park for her. She looks forward to the joy of searching for new and exciting titles every year.
But this year, the odds of her attending the mammoth used-book sale with her family seemed slim.
Claire, a fourth-grader enrolled in the county’s home hospital-studies program, suffers from acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a fast-growing cancer of the white blood cells. A quarter of all cancers affecting children younger than 15 are acute lymphoblastic leukemias, according to the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International.
The disease causes the bone marrow to make lots of unformed cells, called “blasts,” that normally would develop into lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell the body uses to fight infections, according to the National Marrow Donor Program. However, the blasts are abnormal, causing them not to develop properly and rendering them incapable of doing their job. The number of abnormal leukemia cells, therefore, grows quickly, crowding out normal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets the body needs.
With the inability for Claire’s body to fight infection, her mother, Stephanie Broadhead, said she knew it would be impossible to allow her to attend an event that would harbor as large a crowd as the book sale, which draws several hundred people each day. That’s when Broadhead took action.
“One day we were in the library, and I thought of the sale coming up, so I just decided to ask about it,” she said. “I told them our situation, and they were happy to oblige.”
Marilyn Lash, publicity specialist for the St. Mary’s County Library, said, “Stephanie just expressed how much Claire looks forward to the sale and how disappointed she would be if she couldn’t attend, and so we wanted to make this happen for the family.”
Lash e-mailed members of the Friends of the Library board March 2, all of whom “overwhelmingly agreed we should do this,” she said.
“Any time we can help get books into the hands of people, we’re all for it. It was a unanimous decision almost instantly,” said Louise Snell, president of the board. “Just to see people’s faces when they say, ‘Oh! Look! I found the book I wanted!’ . . . Getting excited about things like that, it’s really important to us, so we wanted to make this happen.”
Lash later presented Claire with the good news, telling her “that she’d be able to go to the book sale early, and her face just lit up,” Lash said. “She was so excited. Her facial expression was just . . . it just said it all.”
Broadhead expressed her thanks to the library, in light of just how hard the past seven months have been for her family since Claire’s initial diagnosis.
Claire’s chemotherapy treatments started Sept. 15. “It was just a chain reaction from there,” Broadhead said.
Currently undergoing delayed intensification — the fourth of five intense chemo phases and one long-term phase of less intense chemo — Claire now receives “two weeks’ worth of shots in each leg every other day,” also taking steroids to boost her struggling immune system, Broadhead said.
“This is the hardest and most intense phase and the one where most neutropenic fevers [an infection of the blood] happen,” Broadhead said. “The steroids also give her steroid-induced diabetes, so she takes insulin shots on top of all that. She also gets two other chemos intravenously, plus spinal taps to administer methotrexate, so there’s a lot going on.
“Considering all the chemos she’s getting right now and how much pain she’s in, she’s still very, very tough about it. . . . Sometimes she can barely walk from all the shots, but she insists on being tough about it and won’t even let us carry her out.”
But as the family perused the various buildings filled with books March 15, Claire seemed strong, with the only physical sign of her condition highlighted by the bright orange bandana on her head. Stephanie noted the family has “been coming to the sale for as long as I can remember . . . from when it was at San Souci Plaza, Millison Plaza, even the old Lexington Park fire station.”
Claire roved from aisle to aisle quietly, carefully choosing titles to add to her collection.