"It's a very difficult, risky tumor that they can't extract," explained Kristin's mother, Margie Lato.
Like many pediatric cancer patients, Kristin and her mother have to travel to UW-Madison to see a specialist. They make the drive at least once a week, sometimes more, so Kristin can receive chemotherapy. For some families, the cost of traveling for life-saving treatments on top of expensive medical bills leads to financial ruin. But the Lato's are getting help from the Compass to Care Childhood Cancer Foundation. Cancer survivor Michelle Ernsdorff founded the organization two years ago in honor of her parents.
"I was diagnosed with a Wilm's tumor when I was 14-months-old," said Ernsdorff. "My parents had some extreme financial difficulty in paying for the travel which ultimately my father had to hitchhike home at one point."
During Ernsdorff's cancer battle, her sister Dina was born. She became her travel companion and source of strength.
"When we were trying to figure out how we should raise money for our organization, we thought, every little child who was braving cancer should get to have their own little Dina."
And that's how the Dina Doll came to be. It comes with a note in her pocket that reads, "You're beautiful just the way you are." Kristen received a Dina Doll in the hospital, and it has provided her with comfort and courage to keep fighting her disease.
"Every child likes the companionship of a doll or something to hold and to know that somebody donated that doll to her is just such a great gift," said Kristen's mother.
According to Ernsdorff, 100% of the money raised from the dolls goes directly to the cancer patients her foundation serves. Compass to Care pays for gas, meals and lodging for families that are forced to travel long distances for cancer treatments. The Lato family is grateful for the assistance during a difficult time in their lives.
"It's not a short little treatment thing. It's a big part of our life right now, so we're just thankful for all the help they have given us to help make this journey easier on us," said Margie.
Compass to Care has launched a holiday campaign to keep their mission going strong. The goal is to send 2,000 Dina Dolls to cancer patients who are forced to spend Christmas in the hospital. It's a gift that will brighten the season for kids who'd rather be at home and, at the same time, it will help relieve the financial strain on families who are trying to win their fight against a deadly disease.