Rachel Kiper, a first grade teacher at Wilkey Elementary, had not been feeling well for about a month. The 30-year old mother of three children under the age of 10, was feeling fatigued and noticed “really bad bruising” on her body.
Kiper decided to go to the doctor on March 31. Her doctor performed blood work, and immediately sent her to Louisville to Norton’s Hospital. Kiper’s white blood count “was through the roof,” something that generally indicates a major issue with one’s body in the form of an infection of some type.
Like the figurative gut punch, after further testing Kiper was told that she had acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of “blood cancer.” She was admitted into Norton’s Hospital, with treatment for her newly discovered cancer beginning right away. For without timely treatment, AML can quickly be fatal, and because it's "acute," this type of leukemia can spread quickly to various organs throughout the body.
Kiper’s family, especially her husband Jeff (who works for Bel Brand Cheese), quickly rallied around their gravely ill matriarch.
“They’ve been wonderful, my husband has not left my side,” Kiper gushed. “He’s been amazing. He took FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), so I wouldn’t have to go through this by myself.”
The couple’s oldest child, nine-year old Annie, has provided support for her mother, also. As the only Kiper child old enough to grasp the severity of the situation, Annie has proved to be wise beyond her years.
“My oldest daughter completely understands,” Kiper said. “She knows what would happen without this treatment. She has really stepped up and tried to be strong, almost to the point where I’m worried she might explode.”
For the next three months, Kiper will spend one week per month in the hospital at Norton’s taking chemotherapy. The Monday after the weekly treatments end, Kiper then must travel back to Louisville for an evaluation of how effective the chemo is battling her disease, with treatment regimens determined by the outcome of those tests.
“(On) Monday I have to go back to Louisville for a doctor’s appointment for them to check my blood work -- via a bone marrow test -- to see if I need blood or platelets, and that determines how many times I need to go (for treatment) that week. But it’ll be all outpatient (unlike her weekly stays at Norton’s), and I’ll be home before my kids get home from school.”
Through the exhaustive travel and chemotherapy treatments, it’s not only been Kiper’s family who has displayed great support for the lifelong Grayson County resident. The people of Leitchfield and Grayson County have shown why living in a small town has its definite advantages.
“I’ve been just overwhelmed by the amount of support (from the community),” Kiper said. “The cards and prayers (have really touched my family). But we are especially thankful for the prayers, because God has been with us every step of the way. There were times when I could feel people praying for me. There were times when I couldn’t have done anything without Him; I could just feel Him hugging me. And I could, I could feel those prayers.”
Kiper credits her small-town roots for promoting and fostering a genuine caring attitude among her neighbors.
“In a small town you get that, you get all of those prayers and I’m just amazed at how thoughtful people are in this community,” Kiper said. “I don’t know how many people have said, ‘I have prayed for you every day,’ and you can tell by the look on their face, by the tears in their eyes, by the way that I feel when they say it … you can tell that they have (been praying for me).”
It’s not only Kiper’s vast network of family and friends who have supported her, but also her co-workers in the Grayson County School System; some who work at Wilkey, as well as those who teach at other schools in the county.
“They’ve been just amazing and not even just my co-workers (at Wilkey),” Kiper said. “The other schools … I have been blessed to work in a school district that is full of people who care about each other. There are several school districts where people in your own building don’t even know who you are, but here, every other school has been amazing.
“They’ve sent me cards, they’ve raised money, they’ve just been extremely supportive,” Kiper noted. “Lawler Elementary took a picture of all the kids giving me a thumbs-up with their orange ribbons, and they put on it, ‘Thumbs up for Rachel.’”
When a family is faced with a health situation as dire as Kiper’s, it’s comforting for the entire family to know they are not going through the ordeal alone. Over the last month, since she was diagnosed with Leukemia, it’s become quite obvious to Kiper that she is far from alone. In addition to the wonderful support she receives from her husband and children, the entire Grayson County community has displayed its softer, caring side. Something which has made an imprint on Kiper’s soul.
Because of this, Kiper wanted to thank everyone who has, in their own way, shown concern for her and her family's well-being.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done. You’ve really made my family feel loved and supported, and we haven’t gone through one minute of this alone. I’ve always liked living in a small town, but I don’t think I appreciated the people in a small town as much as I do now. The way they’ve worked together to make everybody feel better during a time like this; the way they’ve come together for my family and me has been wonderful.”