Saturday at Pizza Inn in Winona, a ball was thrown in honor of nine-year-old Cassie Morrison, complete with an appearance from Cinderella and Prince Charming, to celebrate her February birthday and bring a little joy to the ailing child. Recently, Morrison was diagnosed with a brain tumor on her optic nerve.
"Saturday was unbelievable," said Kenna Huffman, Morrison's grandmother. "I can't even begin to express how unbelievable."
Huffman said she can't express her gratitude for a community that has shown so much support and compassion for her granddaughter.
"It was all the community," Huffman said. "The Junior Auxiliary, Crown Club, people in town, and the business community. I can't even tell you how many people were involved."
According to Huffman, on January 7, Morrison, a student at Winona Elementary School, came home from school complaining of vision problems. Her mother, Suzi Rich, discovered her daughter's pupils were fully dilated, and rushed her to Lake Medical Center in Grenada. From there, doctors sent her to Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital in Jackson.
"Doctors determined that Cassie had a brain tumor on her optic nerve," Huffman said. "They began treating her with high doses of steroids, and she has regained vision a little bit in one eye."
However, doctors were unable to determine a diagnosis, so Morrison was transferred to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
"She was given an MRI at St. Jude, and the tumor is no longer there," Huffman said, explaining that the steroids had erased it. However, as Morrison is weaned off the steroids, doctors fear the tumor will return.
"There is a great possibility that it will come back," Huffman said. "She still hasn't regained her vision."
Huffman said that Morrison's condition is very rare, as doctors in Jackson, Memphis, and Chicago are baffled and unable to declare a diagnosis.
"Everything is 'we don't know,'" Huffman said.
Currently, St. Jude is working with Batson in administering a wide-variety of tests in determining a diagnosis.
"She has a very long road to go," Huffman said. "There is a lot of testing. We don't even know all the tests that will be done. They are looking for everything, trying to find out something because little girls don't just lose their vision."
Throughout Morrison's ordeal, the Winona community has responded with prayer and support that has completely overwhelmed Morrison's family, and through that support, Morrison's magical ball was conceived.
"While Cassie was at Batson, Ana Blakely came to visit her dressed as Cinderella," Huffman said. "I didn't even know she did that, but [mother] Tonya Blakely called and asked if Cassie could have visitors. While Cinderella was there, we were talking about parties and a dance. Cassie had said she wanted to dance with her pop [grandfather Ronnie Huffman] like Cinderella danced with Prince Charming."
Huffman said soon after plans were underway. The family wanted to have an event to honor Morrison as well as raise awareness of those suffering with brain tumors.
"We wanted to have a ball," Huffman said. "We wanted Cassie to have the most spectacular day because we don't know what the future will bring."
Huffman said Tonya Blakely was a big part of the event's planning. Vince Saia, owner of Pizza Inn, volunteered to have the event at his restaurant and put the announcement on the sign. Businesses donated a dress for Morrison to wear and other prizes, and cupcakes started arriving from the public.
"We were overwhelmed with how many cupcakes we received," Huffman laughed.
Invitations were sent to the students at Winona Christian School and Winona Elementary School, and kids and adults turned out.
"I would estimate over 300 people were there that day," Huffman said. "The kids had a blast. I heard some say that it was the best party they had ever been to."
Huffman said raising awareness and bringing joy to her granddaughter are what all of these efforts have been about. The community's support means so much to Morrison as she endures more testing and future treatment.
"Right now, we are selling Team Cassie t-shirts," Huffman said. "Cassie designed the t-shirts herself. You can buy them until March 3, and you can place orders at Dr. Hoover's office, Dr. Gammel's office, and StaHome."
Huffman also requested the public follow Morrison via Facebook by liking the Team Cassie page. Morrison enjoys reading the posts and responding as well. Supporters are also encouraged to send her encouraging emails to teamcassie2014@gmail. com.
"Cassie is very grateful for the things people are doing for her," Huffman said.
Huffman said she could not begin to thank everyone for all they have done for her granddaughter.
"Winona is just awesome," Huffman said. "People have been so supportive. I can't ask for anything more other than to pray for our baby."