Community rallies around teacher battling cancer

Photo courtesy of Lauren DeRoche of DeRoche Photography.

Family, friends and countless members of the St. Charles Parish community have gathered around the Growl family, with tens of thousands of dollars recently raised for the family through various fundraisers and donations.

The month of August marked the eighth anniversary of Kellie Fletcher Growl’s cancer diagnosis. And while recent medical reports aren’t what she hoped, Growl said she’s determined to keep thinking positive.

“In times of suffering and pain, it’s hard to see the good,” she said. “But once you get through the tough season, you look back and see how God’s plan really worked.”

Growl has been with St. Charles Parish Public Schools since 2003.

“I’ve been a teacher at Luling Elementary School for 17 years,” she said. “Everyone in the school system has been incredibly supportive during my cancer journey. I couldn’t wish for a better employer.”

Growl was originally diagnosed in August 2013 with stage 3b ocular (uveal) melanoma, which is a melanoma of the iris of the eye.

“It’s a very rare cancer,” she said. “I had my left eye removed to prevent the cancer from spreading and had chemotherapy for a year for preventive measures. Unfortunately, in November 2015 my cancer had spread to my liver, lungs and chest.”

Growl sought immunotherapy treatment through the MD Anderson Cancer Center in January 2016 and saw her tumors shrink by 75%.

“I’ve done liver ablations, liver radioembolization, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, and many different studies for the past eight years,” she said. “There is no cure for this cancer, but with faith, family and the medical field I have already beaten the odds.”

Currently a patient with stage IV metastatic ocular melanoma, Growl said recent scans have shown the cancer has spread to soft tissue patches throughout her body, lymph nodes under her arm and chest. The tumors in her liver have also grown.

“I definitely still believe that mindset is half the battle,” she said. “This isn’t to say I haven’t had a lot of my mental and emotional breakdowns… I mean, I’m human. However, I try not to stay in that place for long. When I feel down, I give it to God or turn to family and friends.”

Growl said she and her family have endured tremendous battles and personal loss over the past eight years, but she is trying to teach her own children, Gavin and Grace, to look for the positive in all situations.

One positive thing in her life, Growl said, is the community she is surrounded by.

“I am speechless – which is rare for a teacher – at the amount of support and love I have received from the community,” she said. “I have no idea what I’ve done in life to deserve all this, but I will be eternally grateful for all that everyone has done for me: selling t-shirts, raffles, donations, meal trains, caroling, cancer bracelets, other SCPPS personnel to give me sick days, gifts to my family and much more. I can’t wait for the day when I can pay it out to others in need too.”

Growl recently announced on Facebook that her doctors have told her that her “last chance” cell trial she will soon begin in Houston.

“Unfortunately, the cancer has spread greatly throughout my body,” she wrote. “There are numerous and highly enlarged tumors in the liver. So if the t-cell test doesn’t work, there’s nothing else I can do medically. I know it wasn’t just medical that got me through this eight year journey. I know I have a lot of prayer warriors standing behind me. I beg you now more than ever to flood the skies with prayers for healing from this deadly disease in my body and for the t-cell trial to pass.”

That Dads’ Club of Luling recently held a benefit steak dinner, and other community organizations have also coordinated benefit and prayer vigils.

Lauren DeRoche of DeRoche Photography said she has been inundated with donations for the family since announcing a benefit photography raffle.

“People have been so overwhelmingly generous,” she said. “My Venmo literally can’t even catch up to it, it comes through so fast… it’s kind of crazy. It’s almost a Christmas miracle.”

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