Emma Strait swims with the dolphins
#emmastrong quickly emerged after Emma Strait, then 13, was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2018 and the community rallied around the Greencastle-Antrim Middle School seventh-grader.
"That's what she is," her mother, Missy True, said of the hashtag that is synonymous with her daughter.
Emma went into remission last last year, but still is undergoing a maintenance phase that includes daily medicine and a monthly IV treatment at Hershey Medical Center. She will continue treatment through at least next May before being considered cured.
The 14-year-old and her family took a trip to Hawaii in April through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of seriously ill children.
It was Emma's desire to swim with dolphins had her family flying to Oahu. She is part of a blended family and the trip was made with her mother, stepfather, Jay True, and siblings Ellie Strait, Eli Strait, Ashley True and Kristen True. Emma's father, Brock Strait, lives in Fulton County, and she also has older stepsiblings, Danny True and Kelly Longerbeam.
Emma did get to swim with the dolphins and even kissed one, observing, "He felt like rubber."
The family also enjoyed visits to the Polynesian Cultural Center, where she was introduced at a luau as a Make-A-Wish child and given a necklace featuring hook in one of the shops; the Dole Plantation, where they ate pineapple ice cream; Pearl Harbor, where maintenance worker saw her Make-A-Wish pin and bought her a stuffed sea turtle, and the USS Missouri; and the aquarium, where she got a painting done by a sea lion.
One day they went window shopping at the expensive stores in Honolulu; they took a ride in a glass-bottom boat; and on a beach day, Emma got to do one of her favorite activities — relax with a good book.
'Going to beat this'
"She's been through a lot," her mother said.
Emma developed night-time fevers and her lips would turn blue. It took three rounds of blood tests before she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
"They say this is the kind of leukemia to have because she won't need a transplant ... a lot of kids at Hershey do," Missy said.
"The staff is really nice," said Emma, who has been hospitalized there numerous times.
"Emma gets every rare side effect," explained Missy, an emotional support aide at Greencastle-Antrim High School.
Jay recalls the night when one medicine made it seem like she was having a stroke. She is never left in the alone in the house and now that her siblings are out of school for the summer, they have more time to help "Emma sit."
Emma has endured the bacterial infection C. diff., other infections, fevers (a temperature over 100.4 is an automatic hospitalization), lots of pills and the side effects of steroids.
The teen who liked to play softball — her favorite — and basketball, now sometimes uses a walker, wheelchair or crutches and sometimes needs to wear a mask when out in public.
She lost most of her hair, except for peach fuzz.
Emma explained that she used to have straight blond hair, but it has grown back brown and kind of curly.
"We're going to beat this. Aren't we, Emma?" commented her stepfather, who is retired.
Career of Excellence
Emma wasn't in school for half of her seventh-grade year or any of her eighth-grade year, but was among the eighth-graders recognized for A Career of Excellence for all A's throughout three years of middle school at the annual awards ceremony.
"She did her schoolwork while she was in the hospital. A lot of kids wouldn't have done that," Jay said.
Emma's sixth-grade teacher, Sarah Diller, became her homebound instructor. Although she took algebra I in seventh grade and high-school level geometry in eighth grade, Emma said she likes language arts better and really enjoys reading. She's also taken up painting "for something to do."
She is looking forward to returning to school this fall as a ninth-grader at Greencastle-Antrim High School.
Missy explained that many people donate airline points to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and her family is ready to start giving back to help others the way they have been helped.
First up, they will be cooking a meal for families staying at the Ronald McDonald House at Hershey on June 22.
Emma picked the menu — lasagna and salad.
They will be cooking for 100 people — 70 staying the Ronald McDonald House (including leftovers for those coming back late at night from the hospital) and 30 of Emma's family members who want to help.
Emma also is hoping next year she will be able to go to THON, the Penn State University dance marathon that raises millions of dollars every year for the Four Diamonds Fund that helps children with pediatric cancer at Penn State's Children's Hospital at Hershey Medical Center.
A dough raiser for Emma is being held through Saturday, June 15, at B Street 104 in Greencastle. Emma was looking forward to going to the restaurant with some of her friends.
Numerous fundraisers have been held for Emma and her family in the past year and a half, including G-A sports teams, a car show and a masquerade.