Watch out, cancer, here comes your worst enemy. She’s a new masked, pink-caped crusader with a bionic arm and an unwavering resolve not to let cancer slow her down.
And she’s only 4 years old.
Meet Claire Koreck, better known to her family as the Warrior Princess. Claire’s world, along with her family’s, has been turned upside down since her diagnosis just two days into 2013 with a rare form of cancer, Ewing’s sarcoma.
When Gloucester Township residents turn out by the hundreds Saturday for Relay for Life, one team will walk every step with Claire in mind. The Princess Claire’s Warriors team is more than 20 strong and has more than $1,500 in pledges ahead of the relay. That money is vital to more research on Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer that almost claimed Claire’s arm.
A warrior princess emerges
The Korecks—dad Patrick, mom Sheila and kids Quintin, Maeve, twins Claire and Declan, and Sarah—were getting ready for what promised to be a wonderful Christmas this past year.
“My husband and I were laying in bed Christmas Eve, listening to kids running around, screaming and laughing, and we thought it was the perfect year for them. This Christmas was going to be awesome,” Sheila Koreck recalls. “Thirty-six hours later we were in the ER, scared to death.”
Claire had screamed in absolute pain when her brother picked her up. An ER visit revealed a broken humerus, the upper arm bone that extends from the shoulder to elbow. Scans also showed Claire had a tumor. She was soon diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a bone cancer usually found in children.
And with that, the Korecks’ lives changed. Suddenly there were doctor’s appointments, painful tests, hospital stays and questions about whether her right arm could be saved. Claire began intensive chemotherapy treatments lasting for days at a time.
There are bad days, to be sure. The harsh drugs and roller coaster blood counts aren’t easy for anyone, much less a 4-year-old. Claire has at least eight more rounds of chemo to go and every round can send her spiraling.
“But when she feels better, she’s ready to go,” Koreck says. “God gave her that personality to handle this.”
That earned Claire her Warrior Princess nickname.
“She’s worn a tiara since she knew what a tiara was,” says Tammi Vogel, the Korecks' nanny and one of the main fundraisers for Claire’s cause. “She’s always been a princess. But when this happened, her mom started calling her the warrior princess, and that’s who she is now.”
Clad in a pink cape and mask, which she often wears to medical appointments, Claire embraces her inner warrior princess. She even got a new “bionic arm,” as she calls it. Just two weeks ago, Claire’s humerus bone was replaced at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia with a prosthetic, a custom-made piece that will grow as she does.
Along with the bionic arm came good news—the CHOP surgeons had clean margins around the cancer and removed the entire tumor.
Walking for the warrior
Vogel is in awe of Claire, she says.
“Even before this, all you heard from her was, ‘I will do it myself.’ She’s very independent and that hasn’t changed,” Vogel says. “She does have her moments of sadness when she can’t go out to play with other kids because her counts are low. She would say she hates her tumor.”
Just as often, Claire acted as any young girl would. Vogel stopped in to to see her recently before Claire’s counts get too low from chemo that she’s not able to have visitors.
“She was running around the house, she wanted to dance; she wanted me to chase her,” Vogels says. “You’d never know she’s four days out of chemo or two weeks out of surgery.”
Claire’s pluck has inspired a large community response to rally around the Korecks, who have lived in the township’s Sicklerville section for nine years. Family babysits the three younger kids, friends drop off dinners. There have been fundraisers for the family to help cover Claire’s medical bills and ease the family’s burden after Sheila took a leave of absence from work in January to care for Claire.
Relay for Life of Gloucester Township is a chance to again support Claire and also let more people know about Ewing’s sarcoma. Leading the charge for Princess Claire’s Warriors are team leaders Kim Corcoran, Claire’s aunt; Vogel; and Lisa Hallsworth, whose idea it was to participate in Relay for Life for Claire.
“You just don’t hear about (Ewing’s sarcoma) because people don’t talk about it because it’s sad,” Vogel says. “These kids are being treated with grownup poisons because they don’t have funding to do the right research. We need funding to get appropriate treatments.”
Keep your eye out on Saturday for the Warrior Princess in a pink cape—the family hopes Claire can attend for at least part of the day. And if not, Koreck vows, she’ll wear her daughter’s pink cape and walk for her.
- Learn more about the 23-hour relay, including a lap for survivors, and plenty of off-the-track fun at Veterans Memorial Park.
- Visit Relay for Life of Gloucester Township’s page to sign up to walk.
- Visit Princess Claire’s Warriors page to donate to the team.
- Hear more about Claire’s fight at the Warrior Princess Foundation page or Warrior Princess Claire Battles Ewing’s Sarcoma on Facebook.