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Super Hero Cancer Fighting Girls

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The Ruelle family's cancer fight continues


TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Summar Ruelle and her daughter, Sapphire, share a strong bond as fellow cancer fighters.As two years of nearly daily chemotherapy finally starts to fade into memory for 6-year-old Sapphire Ruelle, on the outside, life would appear to be returning to normal for the vivacious Beaverton youngster.

After all, Sapphire’s hair has grown back 11 months after her last dose of powerful cancer-fighting drugs, drugs that appear to have warded off Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

So Sapphire no longer stands out among her young classmates at nearby Sexton Mountain Elementary School, where she started first grade last month and enjoys going to music class and physical education. Away from school, she loves her family’s chickens, dancing and the occasional horseback ride.

“She has really adapted well so far,” said her mother, Summar Breeze Ruelle.

Even so, life can’t be as blissfully carefree for Sapphire as it is for some of her peers.

She still has years of bloodwork ahead to make sure the cancer doesn’t creep back, as well as other tests to see whether the cancer or treatments have affected her long-term health.

“There’s still so much that can happen,” Summar said.

And, even more, Sapphire still has to worry about her mom.

In a coincidence almost too cruel to imagine, Summar Ruelle was diagnosed with incurable Stage IV breast cancer on Sept. 10, 2012. Just one week later, on Sept. 17 of that year, the Ruelle family learned that their then 3-year-old daughter had ALL.TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Sapphire Ruelle holds her favorite chicken, Downey, in her Beaverton backyard.

It’s been a tough road for mother and daughter to arrive at their three-year “cancer-versary,” Summar said, but they still have enough spunk to call themselves the Super Hero Cancer Fighting Girls.

“It’s been a roller-coaster, to say the least,” she said.

Summar’s cancer, also called metastatic breast cancer because its cells have spread to her bones and lymph nodes, can be managed to some degree but not eradicated.

“They’ll never use the word remission because it’s not possible,” Summar said. “There’s no cure.”

Unlike Sapphire, her mother’s treatment involved radiation, surgery and other drug therapies — but not chemotherapy until this year.

“I was in tremendous pain all the time,” she said.

Summar didn’t tolerate the first two drugs her oncologist tried, but in September, she began a regimen of intravenous cancer drugs that in the early going appear to be stabilizing the disease and giving her more quality of life.

As often happens, the chemotherapy helped ease some of Summar’s acute bone and joint pain, but it made Summar lose her hair. She has taken to wearing wigs that friends gave her, mostly because her children worry about what others would think.

The family has struggled since Summar, 38, had to quit her tech job at Columbia Sportswear as the cancer and treatments quickly took their toll. Her husband, Pascal, also left his job to become the full-time caregiver for the family, which also includes 8-year-old Jayden.

The Ruelles share information with their children — at an age-appropriate level — about Summar’s type of cancer, which ultimately kills 98 percent of people with her diagnosis.

“They’re very smart,” she said. “I’ve found that it works the best to be open and honest.”

The gift of wigs is one of the many gifts — financial and emotional — that family, friends and acquaintances have given to the Ruelles over the past three years.

“These are the kinds of things that help us get through our days,” Summar said, during a conversation describing the many kindnesses she’s experienced. “Everybody has really stepped up to help us out.”

While the family is focused on the day-to-day routine of life with cancer, Summar also tries to give back.

“I’m very open and upfront,” she said of efforts to educate the public about cancer. “As much as people want to know, I talk about it.”

When she’s up to it, Summar volunteers for called METAvivor, a nonprofit that raises money to support research and awareness for metastatic breast cancer, which kills 40,000 people per year in the U.S. but gets a relatively thin slice of cancer funding, she said.

And this Saturday, the Super Hero Cancer Fighting Girls team will take part in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual Light the Night Walk. Sapphire will be honored as a survivor and Summar as a supporter during the event, which starts at 5 p.m. at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.

For more information about the family, see theruellefamily.com.

Read our earlier story about Summar and Sapphire.