Katie Kennedy, 13, sits on a couch with one of her family’s dogs, Scrappy, in the downstairs of her home Saturday in Craig. A benefit dinner for Kennedy, who was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. tonight at Vallarta’s Mexican Restaurant in the Centennial Mall.

Photo by Shawn McHugh

Katie Kennedy, 13, sits on a couch with one of her family’s dogs, Scrappy, in the downstairs of her home Saturday in Craig. A benefit dinner for Kennedy, who was diagnosed with papillary thyroid cancer, will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. tonight at Vallarta’s Mexican Restaurant in the Centennial Mall.

Blessings in a ‘hard time’: Benefit dinners to help Craig resident recovering from cancer

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If you go

What: Katie Kennedy benefit dinner

When: 5 to 9 p.m. today and Aug. 2

Where: Vallarta’s Restaurant, 1111 W. Victory Way, Suite 114

— Anyone is welcome. Thirty percent of restaurant sales from the event go to the Kennedy family.

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The profile of Katie Kennedy, 13, reflects in a mirror Saturday in the living room of her home.

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Katie Kennedy, 13, holds a stuffed dog Saturday given to her by her brother. About 50 other stuffed animals are packed into her closet, each of them gifts given to her by friends and family while she received treatment in the hospital.

This summer may not have been what Karleen Kennedy was expecting, but she’s happy family and friends are around to support her when she needs it most.

On June 16, Karleen’s 13-year-old daughter, Katie, was diagnosed with papillary carcinoma thyroid cancer, which Karleen said is more common in people ages 30 to 50, rather than someone in their early teens.

After returning home from a 17-day stay at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, the Kennedy’s friends and family are hosting two benefit dinners to help raise money for the family’s medical expenses.

The benefits are scheduled for 5 to 9 p.m. today and Aug. 2 at Vallarta’s Restaurant, inside the Centennial Mall at 1111 W. Victory Way. The restaurant will donate 30 percent of sales to the Kennedy family.

“We all really appreciate the family and friends that we have,” Karleen said. “They shocked us when they put this together. We had no hand in it. It was all them.”

Karleen said doctors have told the family positive news about Katie’s cancer and their ability to treat it.

And, although Katie has been fighting hard and making strides, Karleen said she still has a long road ahead of her.

“The hardest part was telling my 13-year-old that she had cancer,” she said. “My husband (Dan) and I sat down and talked to her and tried to get prepared for what was ahead.”

Katie had been concerned about an enlarged lymph node on the right side of her neck for some time.

When it never went away, Karleen said the family had it tested and then saw a specialist who came to Craig. The specialist confirmed it was cancer.

“We were scared, but we kept our heads up,” she said.

After having a tracheotomy installed, Katie will now have to undergo radioactive iodine treatment in lieu of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Katie’s father, Dan, works at Tri-State Generation & Transmission, while Karleen works at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab as a certified nurse assistant.

Both parents’ employers have been very supportive, Karleen said, by allowing days off to take care of Katie.

“Sandrock told me to just call them when I am ready to return,” she said. “And, Dan has been able to take off days when he needs them. Both places have been very sensitive and helpful with the situation.”

Also living at home are Katie’s two older brothers, Brad, 19, and Dustin, 15.

Karleen said the family has become closer because of the unfortunate situation.

“We have all pulled together as a family,” she said. “It’s been exhausting, but we are all in it together.”

Although Katie has been weak, she still has been able to do things she loves, including reading, spending time with the family’s three dogs and participating in her new hobby, knitting.

“Katie has received numerous stuffed animals and gifts from family and friends,” Karleen said. “One of her favorites has been a knitting loom, and she has started making hats.”

Due to fatigue, Karleen said Katie sleeps a lot, but she is hoping to be well enough to start eighth grade at the end of August at Craig Middle School.

“We have been so appreciative of everything the people have done for us,” Karleen said. “It has been a blessing to have so much help getting through this hard time.”

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