Military family hosts web auction to help nephew
Last November, Shantelle Skinner packed her suitcase and drove from her home in Brandon, Manitoba to the Winnipeg airport. An all-too familiar drive since her and her husband, Captain Duane Skinner, were posted to CFB Shilo in 2010, far from their families “back home” in Alberta.
Shantelle was excited to see her mother, Julie, and sister, Sarah, waiting anxiously at the arrivals gate. They hadn’t seen each other since July, when Shantelle and Duane were married and revealed to everyone that they were expecting a baby! Shantelle was home for her baby shower.
The night before the baby shower, “sister’s intuition” had kicked in and, although they hadn’t seen each other in months, Shantelle knew Sarah was hiding something! “You’re pregnant, aren’t you?” Shantelle blurted out, already confident of the impending answer. Sarah cringed and hunched over as if hoping to disappear from the room – but then saw the inquisitive smiles on her mother and sister’s faces and jumped joyfully in the air exclaiming “YES! I am! But I didn’t want to spoil your big baby shower!”
What an amazing day that was. Two brand new babies in 2012.
Fast forward into the new year - Shantelle and Duane’s son, Marcus, was born in Brandon on March 11, 2012 – weighing over nine pounds, he was a very healthy baby!
Sarah’s baby was due on July 19th so Shantelle and baby Marcus flew to Alberta at the end of June, just in case the baby decided to come early. Sarah was about to become a single mother, and although Shantelle lived two provinces over, she knew she had to be there to support her sister and help her through her labour as much as possible.
Ethan Alexander was born in Red Deer, Alberta, on July 20th weighing 6lbs 6oz. The days surrounding his birth were a blur to say the least – due to complications during delivery, Ethan was deprived of oxygen and sustained an injury to the right side of his brain. Cerebral Palsy was diagnosed but the extent of the damage would only be seen over time as Ethan developed.
To add to the hardship, Ethan was unable to cry when he was born but nobody seemed concerned about that – until he took a turn for the worse. Within hours of his arrival, Ethan was airlifted by STARS Air Ambulance to Edmonton to The Stollery Children’s Hospital. Ethan had a large lump on the right side of his neck. The doctors told Sarah not to worry as they told her babies aren’t generally born with cancer. Apparently Ethan was the exception to that rule. Only a couple days old, Ethan was diagnosed with type 2A Neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is the most common and most deadly solid tumour that occurs in children outside of the brain.* Overall, it is the most common tumour diagnosed in the first year of life.**
Approximately 50-70 new cases of neuroblastoma are diagnosed every year in Canada and in about 50-70% of these cases the disease has already metastasized at the time it is found. This is the highest rate of metastasis for all paediatric cancers
Ethan couldn’t cry because the Neuroblastoma tumor had paralyzed the right side of his esophagus as well as his vocal cords.
Trying to absorb all of the information being thrown at them was next to impossible, but Shantelle and her sister researched every bit of information on childhood cancer, sadly there isn’t a lot and sifted through all of the medical jargon, deciding to focus on the most important part, which is having a positive attitude that Ethan will beat the cancer.
After spending several sleepless nights in different hotels, Sarah was able to settle in to the Ronald McDonald house--her new home-away-from-home—however, her family had to leave.
Shantelle felt helpless, leaving her sister in such a difficult situation, but she had so many of her own responsibilities, including a four month old baby, to take care of, and couldn’t afford to be away any longer. That is when she started brainstorming on how to help her sister from afar.
Social networking was the obvious outlet, so Shantelle decided to use Facebook to set up Ethan’s Journey – a community page for friends, family, and even strangers, to follow Ethan’s treatment, and to offer words of encouragement to Sarah and her family. Just as important, people are able to learn about Neuroblastoma and childhood cancers, which will hopefully create awareness and spread the word for children who cannot yet speak for themselves.
Before he was three months old, Ethan underwent several surgeries and two rounds of chemotherapy. But the damage may be irreversible. Ethan needs to have his mouth suctioned out every hour because he cannot swallow on his own, and the speech pathologist feels his voice may be too quiet to hear, if he is ever able to speak at all.
There are so many things that are not covered by government programs, and Sarah has been through so much already that money should not have to be a concern for her. To help, Shantelle set up a donation page so people can contribute towards Ethan’s continuing care if they feel inspired to do so.
The cancer is nearly gone, but Ethan has a very long road of recovery ahead. He just finished a third round of chemotherapy and has one more round to go before Christmas.
Shantelle and her family are driving home to Alberta for the holidays in hopes that Ethan will be out of the hospital – if only on a day pass – to spend the day together, as all families should on Christmas.
For more information visit Ethan’s Journey Facebook page.