Waterford - A suspicion that something was wrong with Madeline Guarraia led her parents, Matt and Amie, to a doctor's office on a Sunday afternoon nearly a year ago.
At first, the East Lyme couple was worried about their daughter's slight fever. But hours later, they were at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where they received sobering news that no parent could prepare to hear.
Madeline, then 4 years old, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The diagnosis led to months of chemotherapy and forced Madeline away from school, her friends and her normal life.
Now 5, Madeline has reached a "maintenance" stage in her treatment, the prognosis for her recovery is positive and she has returned to Lillie B. Haynes School.
The town has rallied around the Guarraia family, and many people have spearheaded initiatives to support them.
The latest effort will be May 20, when proceeds from the Quaker Hill 5K Challenge will go to the family.
"So many people have done so many things. We can't thank everybody enough," Matt Guarraia said earlier this week. "It's a year after, and people are still doing stuff. That's where we are most touched."
Amie Guarraia said the weeks after Madeline's diagnosis last June "felt like the end of the world for a little while." But a big factor in the family moving forward has been the way Madeline has battled the leukemia and kept her spirits high.
"She has such an amazing attitude, which is a huge part of it," Amie Guarraia said. "We're not living like she's sick. It makes a huge difference."
Kristen Przyborski, director of the 5K Challenge, said a short time after Madeline's diagnosis she and others started brainstorming about ways to help the family. An initial fundraiser was held at the Oswegatchie Elementary School, where Amie Guarraia is a kindergarten teacher. Matt Guarraia teaches fifth grade at Great Neck School.
The 5K race also has deep roots in helping people in need. Przyborski said the race, now in its fourth year, was started after her sister, Theresa Przyborski, died at the age of 45 from a rare form of gastrointestinal cancer.
Theresa Przyborski received a tremendous amount of support during her illness, her sister said. So starting the race was one way to continue similar support for others in town in need.
"When you're going through something like this - that's really when you realize what community means," said Kristen Przyborski, who said the 5K is still seeking a sponsor. "That's why we live where we live."
Matt Guarraia said there is an 88 percent cure rate for Madeline leukemia, and there's a 70 percent chance that she will be cured after her initial treatments, which will stretch into October 2013.
The recent weeks and months have been a constant reminder of how much people care. Matt Guarraia said one of his former students, a soldier who was sent to Afghanistan, stopped in to check on him after a recent deployment before even seeing his own family.
Amie Guarraia said some of her former students have foregone birthday gifts and instead have donated money to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"It's been incredible," Amie Guarraia said. "A big part of all these fundraisers and all these amazing things is people keep telling us she's inspiring them."