Child facing second mountain

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By Walt Reichert

Ashton "Beanie" Flanagan was sitting on the couch hugging his teddy bear and smiling Tuesday morning. It was a rare moment - Beanie does not smile very often.

"This is the best he's been in over two week," his mom, Buffy Flanagan said.

In late September, Beanie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Doctors have put him on a regimen of chemotherapy, steroids and pain medicine that may last for years. The steroids leave him weak, bloated and wanting to eat frequently. Sometimes he is so weak Buffy and dad, Tim, can barely him hear cry. Beanie cries a lot and keeps Buffy and Tim up much of the night. But Buffy is dreading most his imminent loss of hair as a result of the chemotherapy.

"He's got such beautiful curly hair," Buffy said. "It's going to break my heart."

The Flanagans said doctors predict Beanie will need chemotherapy for as much as three-and-a-half years. The next several months will be the worst. Beanie gets treatments once a week.

"The little boy laying there in bed is not the same little boy we had here a few months ago," Buffy said.

First mountain

Leukemia is not the first battle Beanie fought.

He was born with a part of his brain missing. Doctors called him a "floppy baby" and did not expect him to gain the ability to walk, talk or eat by himself.

But, with the help of physical and speech therapists, Beanie learned to eat by the age of 8 months and took off from there.

"The doctors told me that in some cases when a part of the brain is missing another part that we don't normally use takes over," Buffy said.

For just over a year, Beanie was a normal little boy.

Then his mother noticed that he started to have trouble walking and climbing steps and appeared to be in pain when he moved. She thought he was experiencing some form of arthritis. Then he developed a bump under his left eye, which gradually got larger and harder. His eye doctor suggested a biopsy of the lump, and they discovered the leukemia, a cancer of the blood.

Now Beanie's life is a series of trips to the doctor for chemotherapy treatments, bouts of pain and weakness and fitful nights. He sleeps frequently but in short bursts.

Buffy said Beanie's illness also affects his older brothers, Cole, 9, and Chase, 5. Cole, who is mildly autistic, does best when he follows a routine. Beanie's needs frequently interrupt his routine. Cole is currently staying with grandparents because he has strep throat, and Beanie's immune system is weakened to the point that he cannot be around anyone who is sick.

Five-year-old Chase is also affected.

"He doesn't understand about cancer but he tells everybody that Beanie is sad and very sick," Buffy said.

Meanwhile, the family struggles to pay the medical bills. Beanie is on Medicaid and Buffy has applied for Social Security Supplemental Income but that may not come for the next couple of months.

The Flanagans are toying with launching a teddy bear hugging service. For a donation, Beanie will hug teddy bears and the family will get a certificate marking the "official hugging."

"That would be something," Buffy said. "That would help."

To donate to Beanie

Donations to help the Flanagan family care for Beanie can be made to the family in care of the Dorman Preschool Center, Box 853, Shelbyville, Ky. 40066.