By Joel Hall
Until recently, 5-year-old Dominique Lateef was a carefree girl from Riverdale who enjoyed "SpongeBob SquarePants" and coloring books. On May 8, she was diagnosed with a Wilms' tumor, a rare type of malignant tumor - most commonly found in young children - that can ravage a person's kidneys.
This Sunday from 4 to 8 p.m., at Boston's Restaurant and Sports Bar in Morrow, members of the Clayton County community will gather to raise awareness of the disease and raise money for Lateef's treatment.
Cheri Whitfield, Lateef's grandmother, who worked as an information technology specialist at Southern Regional Medical Center from 1999 to 2005, flew from California to help take care of Lateef. She is the daughter of a single parent.
"She was getting ready to graduate [kindergarten] and go to the first-grade when she was diagnosed with the Wilms' tumor," said Whitfield. "She had surgery to remove the tumor on May 12. It's been really rough. It [the cancer] had spread to her pancreas."
She said surgeons removed part of her pancreas, and one of her kidneys. She said doctors also found the cancer on part of one of her lungs.
Between May and June, Lateef experienced four weeks of radiation and chemotherapy treatments at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, Whitfield said, which have caused her to lose weight, lose her hair, and created a financial strain for the family. She said Lateef still receives chemotherapy treatments.
"Other than being diagnosed with this, she [Lateef] was your normal, playful, energetic girl," said Whitfield. "She used to have a full head of hair. Kids have started looking at her, not knowing what is going on. She has her moments about that.
"My daughter, she doesn't make a lot of money herself," Whitfield said. "Those bills are just collecting. We want to be able to help my daughter with some of the finances coming down the pipe."
Cynthia Jenkins, director of the Southern Regional Medical Center Foundation, has known Lateef since she was born at the hospital five years ago. She said the Wilms' tumor has a higher rate of occurrence among African-American girls, and she said Sunday's fund-raiser will serve as a way to help a friend and raise awareness about the disease.
"Dominique, she's just so smart," Jenkins said. "She is very articulate, she knows what she wants ... she can carry on a conversation that is very interesting for someone her age. I was just devastated [to learn about Lateef's cancer]. I thought to myself ... what can I do that goes beyond, 'I am so sorry to hear that.' I knew [a fund-raiser] was one thing I could do."
Jenkins said she and other community members will solicit donations for Lateef on Sunday. She said the fund-raiser, which is not associated with the hospital, will include an auction, as well as an information session about the Wilms' tumor.
"I work at a medical facility and I'm married to a doctor," Jenkins said. "What is most shocking is that I had never heard about this cancer. It's critical not only to raise money, but to educate people, especially those with little African-American girls, because it seems to have a higher prevalence amongst this group. If there are other people out there going through this, perhaps we can start the process of beginning a support group."
SunTrust Banks, Inc., has opened a special "Friends of Dominique" account in which people can make personal donations at any SunTrust bank. Donations can also be sent to: Friends of Dominique, P.O. Box 612, Morrow, Ga., 30260-0612.
The fund-raiser for Lateef will take place this Sunday at Boston's, located at 2180 Mt. Zion Parkway in Morrow. For more information, call (404) 542-6574 or (770) 363-8350.