While dozens of loved ones gathered below, Alexis Harrison sat in the balcony at Ste. Marie Parish with her 2-month-old daughter Cecilia, the subject of hundreds of prayers from those in attendance at Wednesday's Holy Night. (Ryan O'Connor/Union Leader Correspondent)
HOOKSETT - Cecilia Harrison appears to be a normal 2-month-old girl. Sometimes smiling, sometimes crying - she always finding comfort in her mother's arms.
Under the surface, however, her body is battling a rare and aggressive cancer.
In mid-January, just days after Cecilia's baptism, her parents noticed swelling and bruising on one of her legs.
X-rays revealed no breaks, but the family was referred to Elliot Hospital. Additional tests followed, and soon a malignant rhabdoid tumor was found in her abdomen.
"They started her on this multi-cycle chemo treatment, so they can shrink the tumor and take it out, but part of the problem is it's not in any particular organ, so it's very difficult for them to take it out," said Cecilia's father, Matthew, who is 38. "She's too little for radiation, which they do on a lot of other patients, so they're just trying to do whatever they can to get the tumor to shrink so they can treat it."
Cecilia has been handling some of the treatment better than others, said her father.
"From what we've heard, it could be a lot worse, so we're obviously blessed in that sense," he said, "but it's obviously very hard. You know, she doesn't want to eat. She can't tell us how she feels . so it's tough as a parent because she can't tell us what's wrong with her."
Wednesday night, as Cecilia and her mother, Alexis, 33, sat in the balcony of Ste. Marie Church in Manchester, and her father, brother and two sisters sat below, a group of about 100 family, friends and parishioners gathered for a Holy Hour to pray for the infant as her family prepares to admit her to the hospital for another round of aggressive treatment.
Tanya Vigneau is one of several friends and family members who have been assisting the young family through this difficult time. In addition to cooking and delivering meals to the family, an online fundraising effort has been established through YouCaring.com.
"It's obviously been very difficult for them. You know, Alexis is a stay-at-home mom, and (Cecilia) is going to be admitted (Friday) and probably be there until Wednesday, and her kids have never really been away from her, ever, so that's obviously tough."
While Cecilia's older siblings - Sarah, 6, Madeleine, 5, and Benjamin, 3 - have been coping as well as can be expected without their mother around, Harrison said he and his wife have been working hard to remain as upbeat as possible.
"You know, all the stuff you worry about as a parent, this never even occurred to me as a possibility," he said. "It makes you reflect on all the joys you have when you have a little baby, and this really robs you of that because the whole time you're thinking about something else, and you're constantly worried, and ... you're not sure if you can be happy.
"It's such an unbelievably sad thing to go through in what should be a happy, joyful time," Harrison added. "I just can't even imagine anything as awful as this."
The family has put a significant emphasis on its faith through this trying time, said Harrison, who is asking that people continue to pray for his daughter.
For further updates on Cecilia's progress, go to caringbridge.org/visit/ceciliaanne/journal.