Carrick dancer steps up to organize help for cancer patient

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Emily Leyland's life was smooth sailing until cancer struck.

She was a designer at Cabinet World in Pittsburgh's North Hills when she began experiencing bouts of fatigue. On Jan.11, 2011, she went for a blood test. The following day, her doctor phoned to say he needed to see her immediately.

"He told us Emily had a form of leukemia and that she needed further testing," said Terry Leyland, Emily's mother. "As you might imagine, we were in a state of shock."

Currently a patient at UPMC Shadyside, Ms. Leyland, 30, has acute myeloid leukemia, for which she has undergone numerous bouts of chemotherapy and two bone marrow stem cell implants. Since her initial hospitalization in January 2011, she's spent most of the time in the hospital, including a four month stretch. Recently discharged to her parents home in Butler, she goes to the Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside every other day.

"Right now Emily is doing OK, but it's a struggle," Mrs. Leyland said. "The disease is a roller coaster ...one day you get bad news; the next you hear something hopeful.''

Medical insurance has been another challenge. Initially, Ms. Leyland was covered through her work, but when she was no longer classified as an active employee, she switched to coverage under the COBRA act, a plan she had to pay for herself. It expired after 18 months.

Hearing of the problems, Heather Goelz-Carpenter, 38, of South Park, decided to do something to help.

Mrs. Goelz-Carpenter is co-owner of Carpelz Center for the Arts in Carrick and an instructor at Point Park University. She knows the Leylands through the local chapter of Dance Masters of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that encourages further dance instruction for dance teachers.

Mrs. Leyland is the group's recording secretary and Emily Leyland, who started to dance at the age of 21?2, has participated in many Dance Master competitions and conventions.

"I got together with Katreena Snyder of Kat and Co., a dance studio in Morgantown, W.Va. and Barb Page-Neely, a dance teacher and president of the local Dance Master chapter, to brainstorm about fundraising," she recalled.

The women planned a dance event they advertised on facebook. The dance community responded by donating scholarships for master classes, competitions and conventions. They also donated items for baskets that were raffled off at the Doubletree Hotel in Monroeville on Dec.9 in a fundraiser, Danspirations for Emily. The event featured performances and a bake sale. The fundraiser brought in $14,000.

"We are pleased that so many people, especially at this busy time of year, have been so generous with their donations and time to help Emily and bring awareness of the need to donate blood and stem cells to help fight acute myeloid leukemia," Mrs. Goelz-Carpenter said.

Mrs. Leyland said her greatest wish is for people to donate blood and platelets and to register for "Be The Match,'' a national registry for bone marrow donors.

"Right now, the cure for AML is stem cell transplant," she said. "People are under the misconception that stem cell donation is done the old-fashioned way, that's both painful and time consuming. It's not, because they can now take stem cells directly from your blood and determine if a donor might be a match simply by taking a swab of their cheek."

"Emily remains optimistic and positive," said Mrs. Leyland, who taught dance for 32 years at the Lee School of Dance in Butler, but who retired to take care of her daughter.

Donate to "Danspirations for Emily" at facebook.com by clicking on the "Give via FundRazr" tab.

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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