Carlie Foutch’s fingers were so swollen that typing was painful. She sat in her hospital bed, hunched over her sister’s old laptop. The going was slow, but she kept writing.
It was December 2022. She was 15-years-old, stuck in isolation at Children’s Mercy Hospital after a punishing third round of chemo, grueling radiation, and her second bone marrow transplant.
If it hadn’t been for the stupid leukemia, she would have been making TikTok videos, helping her high school basketball team win a game, or hanging out, laughing, dancing, and, talking with her best friend. But since she was trapped in this hospital room, she had decided it was time to tell her story, document who she was and what she’d been through. Hopefully her book would inspire others with similar struggles.
Carlie’s philosophy was, “No matter what, if you keep following your dreams, someday you will make it to where you want.”
Carlie had big dreams and she was determined to make them come true. And one of her dreams was writing and publishing her book.
She wrote, “I’m sticking with what I love doing, which is the following: basketball (WNBA), carpentry (off season), and writing this lovely book. I plan to write another one when I’m older…”
In January 2021, when Carlie was thirteen, her life radically changed. First she got Covid. Then she had a persistent sore throat. Her mom, Misty Kramer, tried to soothe her with hot chocolate. Then, suddenly, Carlie’s hand swelled and turned purple. Misty called the doctor but two rounds of antibiotics did not help. When Carlie spiked a fever, Misty rushed her to the emergency room. After a series of blood tests and a bone marrow biopsy, Carlie was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer: AML, Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
“Since I was only thirteen, I had no idea what leukemia even was, so all I could do was cry,” Carlie writes.
Misty was knocked out by the news of Carlie’s illness. But she pulled herself together and drove Carlie to Children’s Mercy Hospital to begin months of intense treatment. Despite the debilitating chemotherapy, the multitude of medications, many with vicious side effects, and the enforced days of isolation because of her weakened immune system, Carlie was determined to have fun and live fully. The moment she had permission to leave her hospital room, she enjoyed playing with the other kids and instantly made friends with both teens and little children.
When Carlie was finally released from the initial hospital stay, she was eager to start back in sports and school. Since her diagnosis, she has continually thrown herself into life, even when life often threw her back into treatment for extended periods.
“Carlie is a jumble of sassy, outgoing, sweet, kind, and generous,” Misty says. “She is my hero. I have been proud of her through everything. She has more guts and stamina than I can imagine.”
Chief Elf, of The Elves of Christmas Present, learned about Carlie from a Children’s Mercy social worker in December 2022. He noted Carlie’s avid interest in sports and also noticed she was writing a book, an unusual venture for someone so young. In all his years of planning fabulous Christmas surprises for chronically ill children, he’d never known anyone else to be creating such a legacy.
Carlie was not doing well, physically. The treatments hadn’t worked any magic. The medical team had exhausted their options. Chief pondered the best Christmas surprise for Carlie. Although a basketball experience was splashier, his intuition told him that supporting her book project was more important.
He set about making her dream of writing and publishing her story come true.
On the day before Christmas, an elf delivered a festively wrapped new MacBook Air to Carlie at her home. Chief Elf had tucked a personal letter inside the package. Here’s part of what he wrote:
One of the things that really touched us was when your mom shared your writings with us. You’ve had some tough breaks, my friend, but I love the strong young woman that all those breaks helped produce. Your story, and your suggestions of things that everyone needs to know in life, are really inspiring. We’ve never encountered another young person who took valuable time away from their own health battles to try to craft a message to help others. We would love to see you get that message out to as many people as possible.
He then detailed the scope of Carlie’s gift, which included a fully realized, professionally edited and designed, published book, featured on Amazon.
Chief had already contacted Andrews McMeel, a nationally renowned Kansas City publishing company, and secured an editor to work with Carlie. He had arranged for design and publication of the book and found a web master to create a site for Carlie and her book.
Carlie was beyond happy with the gift, as was Misty.
“The elves made her Christmas and they changed her life,” Misty says. “They motivated her and gave her something else to look forward to. We are so grateful for that.”
Carlie planned to surprise her mom with the finished copy of Finding Myself on Mother’s Day, 2023, but the publishing team needed more time. A few months later, when Chief called Carlie to tell her the book was ready, she said, “What time can you be here today?”
Normally, Chief Elf works behind the scenes and doesn’t meet the children. But he couldn’t disappoint Carlie. He jumped into the car and drove to her house. Carlie was waiting outside for him.
“I’m so glad I wrote this,” she told him, clutching the book.
“I’m glad, too,”Chief said. “Do you want us to help you surprise your mom with the book?”
“No thank you. I’ll do it myself.”
Several mornings later, Misty was worried: Carlie was acting weird and Misty didn’t know why.
“What’s going on?” Misty asked her.
“Please go into your bedroom and lie on your bed.”
Reluctantly, Misty complied.
Carlie hovered over her. “What do you feel? Under your head?”
Misty shrugged. “My pillow.”
“Look under your pillow.”
Misty lifted her pillow and saw a copy of her daughter’s book. She looked at the cover and was overjoyed to see the book was dedicated to her. As she read, she was touched by the book’s authenticity and depth. And she was moved to tears when she read, “One of the people I look up to is my mom.”
Today, Carlie and her mom, friends, and family are closer than ever. Misty has taken leave from work so she could care for her daughter and spend more time with her.
“I haven’t given up, “Misty says. “I pray for a miracle. We don’t know how long we have but I want my daughter happy and comfortable. I want Carlie here.”
Carlie hasn’t given up either. She writes, “One thing you should realize is to not take life for granted, the life you have you’re stuck with. There may be good times, there may be bad times… Eventually things will get better and as time goes on you will be a happy and maybe even a famous adult at some point.”
Anybody who knows Carlie or who reads her book understands what a powerful and resilient person she is. She has many more dreams she’s eager to realize. And then there’s the matter of her second book, which she’s planning to write when she’s older. While you’re waiting for her to write her sequel, read Finding Myself and get acquainted with a genuine hero.
Finding Myself is available from Amazon