BIRMINGHAM - The Corbitt family has long been a fan of family outings, playing ball, and Disney stories.
But since January, the family has been pulling together to form a different kind of team - one to fight a foe more frightening than any Disney villain.
Local residents have been following the story of Paisley Corbitt, who will turn 5 next month, for the past seven months as she has fought Stage IV High Risk Neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer that develops in nerve tissue outside of the central nervous system, usually beginning in the adrenal gland on top of the kidney. Doctors discovered a tumor in Paisley's abdomen near her left kidney at the beginning of the year, and she quickly began her first round of chemotherapy
Paisley, the daughter of James and Tyisha Corbitt of Graceville, was diagnosed after her mother became worried about frequent complaints of tummy aches and chest pain.
"She was healthy," said Tyisha Corbitt, "Completely healthy. We went to check ups, did all the well child follow-ups - and then, all of a sudden, she had Stage 4 cancer."
But if cancer is the villain, Paisley's champions are found in hundreds of residents of Jackson, Holmes, Washington, and surrounding counties who have rallied around the young Disney fan. Numerous fundraisers have been held for the family in an effort to help offset costs incurred by the extended stays in Birmingham so that Paisley can undergo her sometimes month-long treatment schedules Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children at UAB.
From painted rocks with 'Prayers for Paisley' lettered, to more fundraisers, cards, and messages of prayers, the family says support has been overwhelming.
"I was telling another mom here about all the support we have received, and she was amazed," said Tyisha, a former Chipley resident. "I told her, 'well, we live in a small community, but they're great.' [Paisley's] getting cards from everywhere. Every now and then she will ask, 'Are even the people at Disney praying for me?' We appreciate all the support and prayers for her."
Paisley had four rounds of chemo before the surgery that removed as much of the tumor as doctors could, followed by a fifth round of chemo.
Her most recent stay in Birmingham is scheduled to last through the end of next month. So far on this trip, Paisley has undergone six days of high-dose chemo and a stem cell transplant. Now, she awaits additional high dose chemo before a second stem cell transplant, followed by six months of immunotherapy.
"I am really hoping that after this transplant and radiation that she is NED, which is 'No Evidence of Disease', and then that immunotherapy adds on to it," states Tyisha. "There is a 50 percent chance it will come back, and if that happens, there is no protocol treatment; it is just clinical trials. Depending on how things go, we are looking to April or May being done with the protocol treatment, and then, we will continue to oray."
Tyisha says Paisley can't wait to return to her life of Disney visits and cheering for her older brother, Brady, on the sidelines of his ballgames in Graceville.
"Typical Paisley before this was outside all day long, digging in dirt, playing, going to the ball park to see her brother play ball, going to Disney World," says Tyisha. "She does have a girly side, but she is very much about going outside and getting dirty - and of course, with her immune system, that is a risk we just can't take right now, even if she felt up to it."
Through it all, Paisley has tried to be patient with her body's current limitations.
"She knows she has some bad stuff in her tummy that we've got to get out," Tyisha said. "She knows that she has to do chemo, and there were a couple rounds that were bad on her."
The Corbitts are hoping to raise awareness about childhood cancer and the lack of funding. The couple - who ran their own wholesale flower business before taking on their new full time of as warriors against cancer - states they were surprised to learn that only about 4 percent of the taxpayer-funded National Cancer Institute (NCI) is dedicated to childhood cancers.
According to the Coalition Against Childhood Cancer, 15,780 children are diagnosed with cancer each year and is the number one cause of death by disease among children. More than 95 percent of childhood cancer survivors will have a significant health related issue by the time they are 45 years of age - side-effects of either the cancer or more commonly, the result of its treatment, and the average cost per stay in a hospital for a child with cancer is $40,000.
The Corbitts say they are pushing through the odds, bolstered by community and family support.
"You don't have an option," said Tyisha. "You just do what you gotta do to get her better."
Anyone wishing to send well wishes to Paisley may currently do so by mailing the temporary apartment in which the family is staying: 1840 Oxmoor Road, Apt. 328 Homewood, Alabama 35209
Anyone wishing to make donations to the family may do so at People's Bank of Graceville or any Regions Bank location. A GoFundMe account has also been established at: gofundme.com/team-paisley.