Created: February 12, 2021 10:50 PM
More than a million dollars to help kids with cancer during the pandemic in 2020.
A record-breaking number for the Edina-based Pinky Swear Foundation.
"It brings hope," says Erica Campbell, the foundation's executive director. "When a parent hears those devastating words 'your child has cancer,' their world turns upside down, and everything begins to fall apart."
The nonprofit helps with financial and emotional support for families coping with childhood cancer.
One of the families being helped is that of 9-year-old Quentin Shevy, who's been battling Medulloblastoma, an aggressive form of pediatric brain cancer, since October 2018.
"He's doing really well, he's come so far," Quentin's mother Jessica says.
"Every day is a gift, I know that's a saying always said by people," adds his father Jonathan. "You realize it more when you are in our position, you know."
If you're looking for a profile in courage, look no further than this quiet, but determined Mankato youngster.
The family shared a series of photographs and videos documenting Quentin's cancer journey.
One shows him ringing a special bell at the Mayo Clinic in January 2019.
The ringing of that bell signified the end of Quentin's thirty proton radiation treatments.
Other videos show him undergoing virtual physical therapy.
There were emotional homecomings after Quentin was released from treatment at the hospital.
There were even moments of humor, when Jonathan allowed Quentin to cut off his hair.
"When they say something like that to you, that your child has cancer, I feel like you enter a different world," Jessica declares. "Like things fall away that are no longer important, and your child and that battle becomes the most important thing that happens in your day."
For the Shevys, it all began in September 2018, when Quentin--- then six-years-old, began getting sick.
It started with an upset stomach, then headaches that got worse.
"He just started waking up in the morning, and as soon as he woke up, he would throw up," Jessica recalls. "He'd say 'my head kind of hurts,' then he'd be fine the rest of the day."
But Quentin didn't get better.
"So we took him for his scheduled well-child check, wasn't such a well-child check at that point," Jessica says.
Their pediatrician told them to pack a bag and get to an emergency room.
"Got a CT scan pretty quick at Children's in Minneapolis, and found out about the tumor in his head," Jonathan says. "So that night they put in a drain to relieve all the pressure he was having up there, that was causing the headaches and the nausea."
An MRI revealed another lesion forming on Quentin's spine.
On October 31st, doctors operated, removing the tumor.
But when he woke up, Quentin's right side was paralyzed.
"He had lost the ability to use his right side, basically completely," Jessica says. "He couldn't walk, he couldn't stand, he could no longer write or color, or do his favorite things."
And so began a nearly two-and-half-year battle.
Dozens of radiation treatments.
A feeding tube in Quentin's stomach, and a port into his chest for intravenous lines and chemotherapy infusions.
Seven cycles of high dose chemo.
"As soon as we finished with radiation, after 38 days of that, we went right into chemo," Jonathan remembers. "And he never had time to recover from one thing to the next. It really felt like we were trying to keep him alive for that first year."
Slowly but surely, Quentin was learning to walk again, and to use his right hand.
Then in April 2020--- a relapse.
Doctors found and removed a small tumor in his brain--- less invasive, this time.
"Typically, when Medulloblastoma relapse occurs, it's all over the brain," Jessica explains. "Like in spots all over the surface of the brain. But Quentin's was operable, and it was in one small spot, which was like pea-sized. I guess that gives me a little hope because his was surgically removed, so they took out everything that was cancerous."
But the Shevys have not been alone in this fight.
"All I want is for people like Jessica, Quentin's mom and dad to focus on the health of their child," Campbell says.
Last summer, the family connected with the Pinky Swear Foundation.
"Can you imagine battling childhood cancer and then a global pandemic?" Campbell asks. "We'll pay for a family's mortgage, their rent, car payments, even pay for gas to get safely to treatment, and groceries to get healthy food on the table."
For Campbell--- a cancer survivor, the work the foundation does is personal.
"I had breast cancer in 2018, and what made that even more painful is that I lost my mom to breast cancer fifteen years ago," she says quietly. "I took an aggressive form of treatment, had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. I am cancer-free now. But it fuels my desire even further to help families."
The foundation paid several month's rent for the Shevy's Mankato townhouse.
Staffers coordinated zoo trips and other outings, even set up a family photoshoot.
"Jonathan could take time off work or whatever, and not have to worry about finances or things like that," Jessica says. "It just kind of took the burden off for us a little bit."
"They just step in and help out," Jonathan adds. "And they just bend over backward to make life more fun and easy during the hard times. Having more financial security, to not have to worry about that on top of what you're going through is just priceless."
Campbell says the foundation has helped 17,000 families since 2003; 1,547 families in 2020 alone.
That $1 million plus figure is a 40% increase from the previous year, she says.
"I do take every child's story so personally," Campbell says. "I take great responsibility in making sure they feel that we are walking beside them in this journey, because it is such a lonely journey. It's really isolating for these families."
The National Brain Tumor Society says an estimated 4,630 new cases of pediatric brain tumors will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.
Five-year survival rates range between 50 and 90 percent.
Experts say around 15,000 youngsters nationwide are diagnosed with some form of cancer each year.
About 300 Minnesota children are affected by cancer annually.
The Shevys say their faith is helping them to carry on.
They have no intention of quitting this fight.
We asked Quentin what he thought.
"Good," he answered promptly.
"He has been just a trooper through it all. I always like to say though, is we're brave as a family. All of us pitch in and do what we can," Jonathan says. "While we're on treatment here, we'll take it as long as we can, and then we'll go from there. We're just enjoying our time together as a family."
You can find out more about the Pinky Swear Foundation at the link here.
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