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Ashley Lowery, Deseret News
Emily Austin, in her room in Orem, doesn't talk much about her leukemia. "Always look at the positive," 15-year-old Emily says. That's her motto.

OREM — Emily Austin doesn't talk much about her leukemia. Her friends don't really bring it up, and she patiently endures the weekly trips to Primary Children's Medical Center for testing.

"Always look at the positive," 15-year-old Emily says. That's her motto. So when her beautiful brown hair fell out during chemotherapy, Emily focused on something else.

"I always got to wear hats in school when nobody else did," she says with a shy smile.

And what about all the needles, blood tests, chemo rounds and hospital stays?

"She really understands 'House,"' says her dad, Mark Austin.

"I like that show," Emily adds. She knows what the actors on the popular Fox TV show are talking about. She's been through it all.

Emily was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 5 and started chemotherapy quickly thereafter. She was doing well until she relapsed at age 9, which brought on stronger chemotherapy.

Another relapse in 2006 meant doctors began looking at the last resort — a bone-marrow transplant.

That year, Emily got the best Christmas present ever — donated bone marrow from a 27-year-old woman the family doesn't know. But they're grateful.

"They bring it in and it looks like a bag of blood," said Emily's mom, Laurie Austin.

She said Emily was slightly disappointed because it looked like a common transfusion. "But for us, we're bawling, because it's going to save her life."

And so far it's been working.

Emily has shoulder-length, brown curly hair again and is slowly being weaned off her medicines. Her body fought against the marrow for a while but is now learning to accept it.

Emily said she's looking forward to getting her driver's license, going back to ninth grade and hopefully, soon, going swimming. She has to be careful because of a decreased resistance to germs.

"It doesn't seem like she thinks of cancer as ending her life," Laurie Austin said. "She's always optimistic."

That optimism hasn't gone unnoticed by the Austins' friends and neighbors, who are running a race for Emily as a way to show support and raise money for her family.

Dr. Steven Berry, the family's doctor, organized a team for last year's Wasatch Back Relay, a two-day, 170-mile run from Logan to Park City.

William M. Jeffs, a friend of Berry and the Austins, ran with the team last year and called it an incredibly positive experience. After the race, Jeffs agreed with Berry that they could use the race to accomplish good things.

So combining Jeffs' nonprofit foundation — Cancer Assistance Fund for Youth — and Berry's running background, the team is running this year's race, June 20-21, for Emily.

"Everyone on the team has something that they can give," Jeffs said. "That's what we're trying to do. Get everybody involved. Very simple acts of kindness can really go a long way to help individuals."

The team also is relying on the kindness of others to help raise money for the financially drained Austins. Visit www.cafy.org to make a donation.

"Last summer was pretty tough," Mark Austin said, estimating the overall cost of medical expenses for Emily is nearing $1 million. "We were drained, financially. We had broken-down cars in the garage we couldn't fix."

"It's unbelievably expensive to treat cancer," Jeffs said. "They've had good insurance, but it's the co-pays, the gas to drive to and from Salt Lake, the baby-sitters — a lot of people really don't think about that. That's kind of what our charity is (about), trying to help them out with those unreimbursed expenses."

It's support like this — as well as anonymous lawn mowings and unsolicited rides to school for Emily's three siblings — that keeps the Austins going.

"You find you are a lot stronger than you thought you were," Laurie Austin said. "I though I could never handle a child going through cancer. But you have to be strong for them. You can't ever imagine them going through it themselves."


E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com