2-year-old girl wages
tough battle vs. cancer

A fund-raiser will be held to
help meet medical expenses

By Pat Gee

Taja Koch was not yet 2 years old in February when doctors discovered the reason for her persistent cough was an ominous mass blocking her air passage. The diagnosis was non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

"As soon as they discovered the cancer, she was admitted into the hospital, and the chemotherapy made her feel worse," recalls her mother, Nalani.

"It was really, really bad. It's been a very stressful time," she said.While Taja was too young to understand the seriousness of her illness, the treatment affected her sunny nature. She stopped smiling and sank into a deep depression.

"She wouldn't eat or drink. All she did was lie around. She would look at me like, 'Why, mommy, why are you letting them do this to me?'"

After nine months of treatment, Taja is feeling a little better, and she is smiling again -- although not as often as she used to.

Nalani Koch said her daughter is now well enough to start preschool this January but still has to receive chemotherapy once a week until March 2004.

Her family is hopeful she can beat the cancer. But in the meantime her parents, Nalani and Raja Koch, are facing another challenge: paying off a mountain of medical bills.

A fund-raiser to help with the payments will be held Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. at Don Ho's Island Grill in the Aloha Tower Marketplace.

Tickets are $20 a person. Anyone interested in attending may pay admission at the restaurant.

Musical groups include Simplisity, Soul Free, Horizon, Butch Starkey and Overtime. Prizes will be awarded, including a two-night stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and a magic show will be presented. KCCN's Billy V. will emcee.

Nalani Koch went back to work at Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School to help pay for the "huge" number of expenses that have accumulated since February, when Taja was diagnosed. The family's health insurance does not cover all of Taja's medical needs, she said.

Koch also hopes the fund-raiser will increase public awareness that children do get cancer. She said financial contributions to the Hawaii Children's Cancer Foundation are needed. The foundation "helped me stay off from work longer," after she used up all her sick days and vacation time, she said.

"I'm excited to go back to work but scared at the same time. I don't want to have false hope" that the cancer has been contained permanently. "I pray every day it's not going to come back, and I'm scared about everything."

"We're living life not knowing what to expect next. The main thing is that she gets well," Koch said.

Her daughter's doctor, Darryl Glaser of the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, approved Taja's starting preschool next year to live as normal a life as possible, Koch said.

The Koch family includes two other children, son Christopher and daughter Tiana. They live in Honolulu.


Nalani Koch wrote this poem about children with cancer:

Who are these children, that are so strong.
Why did this happen, for they know no wrong.
The pain they go through, to win their fight.
Why do they have to suffer, it's just not right.
They endure more than most, but never complain.
They laugh and smile, even in pain.
These children are special, they are role models for all.
They are the heroes that save us, when our hearts start to fall.

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