The Twitter-verse in Shakopee is flooded daily with tweets supporting #teamannamarie.
“Stay strong and fight hard kid! We’re thinking about you and praying for you!” wrote Twitter user Brady Knotts.
“You can get through this, you’re in my prayers. Stay strong girl,” tweeted Peyton Edlund.
“Your strength and positivity is amazing. Love you tons!” tweeted Kyria Stark.
They are all tweeting for 15-year-old Annamarie Charloff, a Shakopee High School sophomore who was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer.
Every night she reads the many messages friends, family and acquaintances post online.
“I love it. It’s really uplifting,” Annamarie said of the messages. “I even get them from people I don’t know. I’m just so overwhelmed by the support.”
In November, Annamarie was diagnosed with an acute form of anemia, often too weak and fatigued to attend a full day of school. A few weeks later, a colonoscopy showed “a large mass” in her gastrointestinal tract, Annamarie’s mother Dawn Charloff said.
On Dec. 2, Annamarie underwent surgery and had a large portion of her large intestine removed, as well as some lymph nodes. The lymph nodes and intestine tested positive for cancer.
“A doctor told me that a case like hers is one in 100,000,” Dawn Charloff said. Colon cancer is rarely seen in someone as young as Annamarie.
The odds are daunting, but Annamarie is up to the task.
Joan Gunderson, school nurse at Shakopee High School, has been working with the Charloffs ever since Annamarie was diagnosed with anemia to help design a practical plan for Annamarie’s education. A cancer survivor herself, Gunderson said she felt a strong bond with Annamarie due to the girl’s spirit in the face of adversity.
“Her courage, that get-after it mentality, is inspiring,” Gunderson said. “She’s a fighter, and has such grace.”
After hearing of Annamarie’s cancer diagnosis, Gunderson shared her own cancer experiences with Annamarie, giving tips on wigs and how to make hair loss not seem so unnatural.
Gunderson, who spent a large portion of her career as an oncology nurse, said Annamarie took it all in stride.
“Losing hair is traumatic for anyone. I’ve seen men in their 70s get upset over it,” Gunderson said. “But she was able to smile about it.”
“It’s huge on her part, to turn around and be positive,” Dawn Charloff said of her daughter. “There’s a big fight ahead, but she has enough support to get through it.”
That support has been with Annamarie since her diagnosis. Thanks to calls, connections and petitioning from family and friends, Annamarie was able to quickly get accepted to the Mayo Clinic for treatment. Once Mayo was involved, Dawn Charloff said the professional team the hospital has assembled has shown why the hospital is so renowned for its care.
“They have made me feel very safe. Before I even met them, they already made me feel like they really care,” Annamarie said.
At school, the support has been tremendous. A constant flow of get-well-soon cards arrive at the Charloffs’ door. Gunderson said teachers and students are organizing a huge banner for Annamarie that everyone who cares about her can sign.
And then there’s the basketball game. Many of Annamarie’s friends, including her best friend Sydney Zerr, play basketball. They’ve organized an event to show Annamarie the whole school has her back.
Starting at 6 p.m. on Friday, the doubleheader Shakopee High School boys and girls varsity basketball games against Prior Lake will feature a “blue out” in honor of Annamarie. During both games, the crowd has been asked to wear blue, the ribbon color for colon cancer. More than 700 T-shirts have been ordered, with the phrase, “I Wear Blue for Annamarie” to raise money for the Charloff family to help offset Annamarie’s medical costs.
“Dawn recently started a new job. I know it’s been hard for her to juggle all the medical calls and her work,” Gunderson said.
In addition, cash donations will be collected at halftime during each game.
When her friends told her what they were planning, Annamarie was completely surprised, her mother moved to tears.
“I’m just amazed at how giving and supportive these kids are,” Dawn Charloff said.
For now, Annamarie, her mother and younger sister Maia are trying to maintain a sense of normalcy. The Christmas tree is up in their home and Annamarie has taken up crocheting, which she says help her focus. The family has recently begun working with Mayo on a treatment plan.
When asked what she’s looking forward to in the near future, Annamarie said “starting chemo.”
“I want to get this out of me, and start focusing on getting better,” Annamarie said.