When 5-year-old Caroline "Calle" Cronk of Norwell was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor two weeks ago, her parents were shocked and devastated.
But in the time since then, the family has been lifted up by an overwhelming outpouring of support both in Norwell and across the country. A Facebook page for Calle has garnered over 8,000 "likes" and the family has been contacted by Taylor Swift's agent.
Rachael and Kevin Cronk of Norwell first noticed something different about their bubbly daughter when the little girl started taking three-hour naps in the middle of the day. They wrote it off as fatigue from her first year in kindergarten and continued with their normal routine – taking Calle and their son Connor, 6, to school and activities.
Then things got worse. Calle started having trouble keeping her balance and was always squinting and tilting her head because of blurry vision. They took Calle to the doctor’s and ran some tests, but everything came back negative. Then, on Nov. 14, Calle could barely stand up during a class at Dance Carousel in Scituate, and the Cronks rushed her to Boston Children’s Hospital.
Doctors told Rachael Cronk in the wee hours of the morning on Nov. 15 that her daughter has a mass in her brain. A few hours later, they told her and Kevin that Calle has cancerous tumor called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG). The tumor is located in the brain stem and is not able to be surgically removed. Doctors said they probably had about one year left with their 5-year-old.
“They said it’s the worst of the worst,” Rachael Cronk recounted. “It’s devastating. Everything just flashes in front of you.”
Kevin said the doctors told them that DIPG has a 2 percent survival rate.
“It’s a small percentage,” Rachael said. “But that's what we have to hope for, that’s where we’re putting our bets.”
Now, two weeks later, Calle has started radiation treatment, which she will continue five days a week for six weeks. She is also participating in a clinical trial for a medicine called SAHA.
As the Norwell family prays for a miracle for Calle, a miracle of sorts has already happened: thousands of people in their own community and across the country have reached out in support after Calle’s story rapidly spread through social websites and gained media attention across the U.S.
The swell of online support for Calle started with a few tweets and a Facebook group and has turned into a deluge of social media posts within the past two weeks.
A group of Cronk family friends formed a “Friends of the Cronk Family” committee. Rachael said the group takes care of “anything we need to do, so we can take care of Calle.” One of the women on the team, who asked for her name not to be printed, created a Facebook page called “Hope for Caroline” last Tuesday. She said she made the page to provide a way for people in Norwell to offer their support and to stay updated on how Calle was faring.
“It started as a hometown effort for the Norwell community,” she said. “Now, amazingly, it’s global and taken on a life of its own.”
Over 8,000 people have "liked" the Facebook page and that number is rising every hour. Some posts are from people in states as far as Wisconsin and Oklahoma and even in other countries, such as Germany and Ireland. They offer encouragement and prayers, and some say they saw stories about Calle on their local TV news.
“We’re just forever grateful for the support,” said Kevin Cronk. “It’s uplifting us and helping us to be strong for Caroline and Connor.”
Before news stations across the country started picking up Calle’s story, another group was spreading the word: Norwell high schoolers. The students have been instrumental in putting Calle’s tale in the social media spotlight and catapulting it to a viral story.
Last Tuesday night, after the “Hope for Caroline” Facebook page was created, word about Calle spread quickly among Norwell teens via Twitter.
Kayla Clement, a junior at Norwell High School, was one of the first students to tweet about Calle with the now viral hashtag #PrayForCalle.
“I just read her story and I felt it touched my heart,” Clement said. “I felt like we should raise awareness.”
A few hours later, Clement said, twitter was overflowing with ‘pray for Calle’ tweets.
One student came up with the idea of wearing gray – the color for brain cancer awareness – at the Wednesday school pep rally. Word spread through Twitter and Facebook, and the pep rally the next day was a wave of gray, instead of the school colors of blue and yellow.
“It was done and organized by the students for a little girl they didn’t know,” he said. “I think I speak for a lot of people in this community when we talk about how proud our students made us at this point.”
The momentum from the pep rally hasn’t slowed. Students are working on other projects to help the Cronk family and to raise awareness of DPIG. The Norwell High School hockey teams have dedicated their season to her. On December 12, at their opening games, they’re throwing a “Rally for Calle.” The students will be selling gray bracelets and shirts to raise money for DIPG research. The hockey players will be wearing gray jerseys with “Cronk” emblazoned on the back.
“It’s been amazing,” Clement said of the way the community has moved to support Calle and her family. “It’s just, like, a small town. Nothing ever happens in Norwell. It’s amazing that this little girl has really changed everybody.”
The high-schoolers have also been reaching out to celebrities. After hearing from Calle’s mother that the 5-year-old’s dream is to meet Taylor Swift and Ellen DeGeneres, students have tweeted many times to Swift and DeGeneres, as well as other celebrities, with the hashtag #PrayForCalle. Bruin’s star Tyler Seguin re-posted one of Clement’s tweets.
There has also been a town-wide letter-writing campaign to Swift and DeGeneres in an effort to help Calle’s wish come true. On Thursday, Rachael said, Swift’s agent reached out to her.
“They said they definitely want to help,” she said. “They want to make Caroline smile.”
The Cronks said their experience so far during Calle’s fight against DIPG has made them passionate about getting the rare disease on the map. The Friends of the Cronks committee has set up a fund at a local bank for donations for research, and they’re working on a 501(c) fund for larger donations.
“There are 200 kids with DIPG a year, and you don’t hear about it,” Rachael said. “But we’re gonna be heard and we’re gonna make a difference and Caroline’s gonna be proud of that.”
Emily Files can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.