KinsLee Polson's Journey to Overcome Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

With the support of Essentia Health’s pediatric oncology team, family and a tight-knit community, the 5-year-old is on her way to a full recovery.

family in grass on blanket

A Life-changing Phone Call

On June 23, 2023, KinsLee Polson and her twin sister, Rila, turned 5 years old—a blessing for a family who received earth-shattering news just two years ago.

On January 4, 2018, KayLa Polson and her husband, Rick, found out they were having twins. In June 2018, the couple welcomed KinsLee and Rila into the world. Throughout their first few years, the girls were healthy and hit all their developmental milestones. But during the summer of 2021, KinsLee’s behavior started to change.

“At the time, she seemed fussy. She was complaining of leg pains, even when she was resting,” KayLa reflected.

As summer progressed, so did KinsLee’s pain. She started limping and eventually got to a point where she couldn’t get out of bed and refused to walk. KayLa scheduled an appointment with their pediatrician.

“On the day of our appointment, KinsLee was smiley and energetic. She was in great spirits throughout all of the tests,” KayLa shared. “The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong with her and said the next step was to do a blood draw. I asked him what they were looking for and he said, ‘Lyme disease, juvenile diabetes, arthritis and leukemia.’ I said, ‘Hold up.’ I was shocked to hear that.”

About an hour after KinsLee had her blood drawn, KayLa received the phone call that would change their lives.

“The doctor recommended I stop driving. KinsLee’s numbers were less than half of what they should’ve been. He told me to head straight for Essentia Health’s pediatric oncology department,” KayLa said. “He couldn’t say what was going on, but I just knew: I called my husband and said, ‘You have to pack up Rila and bring her to her grandparents, they think KinsLee has cancer.’”

Within 48 hours, KinsLee was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The care team prepped KinsLee with a port, and she began chemotherapy right away. Over the course of nine months, the Polson family spent about 50% of their time apart; KinsLee and KayLa were at the hospital, Rila was often with her grandparents, and Rick was running the family’s bar and campground.

“Between intensive chemo, weekly spinal taps, regular fevers and a lot of other complications, the hospital became our second home. My little peanut didn’t have an easy go of it,” KayLa said.

KayLa said that KinsLee and Rila’s age was a blessing. The tenacious three-year-old sisters quickly adapted to their “new normal.”

“You have to scrape the bottom of the bucket to think of things to be thankful for during a time like that. When KinsLee felt well enough, she and Rila would hang out at the campground. Rila would tell people, ‘My sister has cancer, and she’s going to lose her hair and be bald.’ She was so matter of fact, and they were both accepting of the situation. Their age is one of the things we didn’t take for granted,” KayLa said.

“They truly had everything I could have ever needed.”

When counting their blessings, the Polson family was also thankful for the Essentia Health staff and the resources made available to them, including the Ronald McDonald House Northland.

“The hospital care teams did such an amazing, tremendous job making KinsLee feel safe and welcomed and at home. They’d always let her pick out a present for Rila. It meant the world to us that they cared for our whole family with love,” shared KayLa.

“And the Ronald McDonald House was a great place. It was comfortable and warm. There was always food available—they truly had everything I could have ever needed. They allowed me to bring Rila for a sleepover, and they made sure they had her favorite toys ready. She still talks about it.”

Community Support Fuels Love

In addition to the Essentia Health pediatric oncology caregivers, the Polson family received remarkable support from their tight-knit community of 600 people. From fundraisers to meal deliveries, their loved ones, friends and neighbors stepped up to provide unconditional support.

“Our town really rallied. It was amazing to see how quickly, and fiercely, they rose to the occasion when support was needed,” KayLa said. “And we couldn’t have done this without our Grammy Sue and Grandpa Tim. They put a car seat in their truck and took Rila everywhere she needed to go, including daycare. They structured their lives around ours. They are truly Godsent.”

A local barber even set up his chair in the Polson’s bar and donated all sales, almost $3,000, back to KayLa and Rick. Nearly 100 people showed up to shave their heads for a day the family will never forget.

The Polson’s also shaved KinsLee’s head—something she did side-by-side with her Grandpa Tim.

“Her chemo was wiping out her hair. But she didn’t even bat an eye. After her head was shaved, she went to the bathroom so she could see it. She got a big smile on her face and started rubbing her bald head,” KayLa remembered.

KinsLee’s courageous spirit and infectious attitude shine even brighter as she works toward recovery.

Brighter Days Ahead

These days the family is getting back into a routine. The girls started 4K and love school. They wear princess dresses and negotiate bedtime. The family even got a dog, named Arliss, which means “promise.” Arliss is KayLa and Rick’s way of showing their daughters that life will get easier after cancer.

And, most importantly, KinsLee is on her way to a full recovery. She’s seeing her doctors less and less; and although she’s technically in remission and cancer free, she’ll continue to receive chemo on a daily basis at home until January 2024.

The Polson family is passionate about giving back to the Essentia Health team that did so much for them. This is the ninth year that KayLa has hosted a fundraiser 5K. Historically, 100% of the funds supported breast cancer awareness and mammogram screenings. But starting in 2022, KayLa decided to split the proceeds between Essentia Health’s breast health services and Erick Peter Person Children’s Cancer Center—the only pediatric center in Northland.

“There’s been a lot of hope and strength that has come and continues to come with this journey. Without the Essentia Health team’s love, support and compassion, our experience could have been much different,” shared KayLa.

“I’m forever thankful for what they do for kids. And God forbid we ever have to go through something like this again. But if we did, I know that we’d be okay because we’d have a solid team that really cares behind us. Some families aren’t as lucky as we are. I never had to be afraid that we weren’t taking our little one home.”

How to Get Involved

This year’s 5k takes place on Saturday, September 2, at Birchgrove Campground in Iron River. To learn more or support the event, please email KayLa Polson.

If you’re interested in supporting Essentia Health’s oncology services, please reach out to Robin Pestalozzi at [email protected] or 218-940-3731.


How to Make an Online Donation

Visit our Give a Gift page and select from our list of Essentia Health campaigns and local foundations.

More Opportunities to Give

Learn about other organizations that support care at Essentia Health:


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