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March 17. 2014 7:35PM

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Salem girl's cancer fight draws army of supporters


Bearing the scars from recent surgery to remove an aggressive brain tumor, Ava Doiron-Franklin, 5, played a game on her iPad in her Salem home. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)

SALEM — Less than two months ago, Ava Doiron-Frankland was a typical 5-year-old girl who enjoyed cheerleading, playing with her American Girl dolls and spending time with her family.

But life has a way of changing in an instant.

In late January, when Ava's parents brought her to the emergency room after treatment for what they believed was simply dehydration stemming from a serious sinus infection, the family heard the news no parent hopes to hear.

A baseball-sized tumor was growing in the Salem kindergartner's brain and immediate surgery was needed in order to save her life.

Ava underwent brain surgery at Boston Children's Hospital the following day, and since then her days have been a whirlwind of doctor visits, chemotherapy and radiation.

As she recovers at home with parents Michael Doiron and Jeff Frankland, sister Ella, 3, and the family's pet Chihuahua, Sampson, Ava is basking in the love of her many friends, even those she hasn't met yet.

Some of those friends are taking extra care, in fact, to ensure the little girl looks her very best while waging the fight of her life.

Ava's head was partially shaved in preparation for surgery, and the remaining locks of her honey-colored hair will likely fall out from her ongoing treatments, which currently consist of daily radiation treatments and oral chemotherapy, the latter so powerful that her fathers need to put on gloves before handling it.

"It's an aggressive form of cancer so it needs to be treated aggressively," Frankland said.

Next week she'll begin a course of intravenous chemotherapy.

In the meantime, Ava has already made quite an impression on Londonderry High School junior Sophie Bartlett, who has known her since she was a baby.

Frankland was Bartlett's cheerleading coach and the high school student continues to keep in touch with him through their respective Facebook pages.

Bartlett and senior Maria Gagliardi, who also knew Ava from her part-time job at the day care she used to attend, approached English teacher Steve Juster about how they could help. Juster oversees the school-wide Pantene Beautiful Lengths program.

For the past eight years, students and staff members have participated in a massive hair-donating event. In January, a record 234 donors gave their hair to the Pantene Beautiful Lengths charity, which provides free wigs to children and adults undergoing cancer treatments.

"It can be tricky finding a wig for a child, especially at such short notice," Juster said. "But Pantene immediately responded and within two days, a petite wig that was a perfect match for Ava's hair color arrived at the school."

Juster and Bartlett, along with Londonderry hairstylist Joanna Meola, made an important house call on Tuesday evening when they delivered Ava's new "hair."

Meola, who has styled the shorn heads of hundreds of Londonderry High School hair donors over the past seven years, helped Ava and her parents add some personal touches to the wig, giving it the precise look of Ava's actual hair.

Since Ava's scar still remains tender from recent surgery, modeling her new wig didn't sound especially appealing for the little girl. But she couldn't help but grin when Doiron popped the tiny hairpiece on top of his own freshly-shaved head.

"Silly," she declared.

"She's still only five," Frankland said. "I think this is going to be very hard for her."

Those wishing to send well wishes to Ava during her illness are encouraged to visit the "Ava's Army" Facebook page.

Friends of the family have also set up a fundraising page, "#AvasArmy" on the YouCaring.com website, where donors can assist with travel expenses and other necessities as both parents are taking time off from work to care for their daughter.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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