December 27, 2009 in City

Holding on to hope

Couple raising four great-grandchildren try to live one day at a time, but Chuck Young’s lung cancer is a struggle for the whole family
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Macaylee Godin, 5, at her home in Coeur d’Alene earlier this month, is one of four children being raised by their great-grandparents, Shirley and Chuck Young.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Checking In

About this series: Spokesman-Review reporters check back on some of the people we’ve featured in previous stories.

The cancerous tumor in Chuck Young’s left lung had started to grow again. When readers of The Spokesman-Review last heard about Chuck and Shirley Young, of Coeur d’Alene, they were waiting to learn whether radiation and chemotherapy had killed the tumor, freeing them to focus on raising their four Canadian great-grandchildren.

“The story goes on and on,” said Chuck Young, 72. “Maybe we’ll make it and maybe we won’t.”

The treatments diminished the tumor, but it was still there. In November, doctors at Kootenai Cancer Center tried something new. A long needle with a heating element was inserted into his lung, allowing doctors to burn the tumor and kill the tissue. It rendered that portion of the lung unusable, but Young said he was thrilled because he retained more of it than he would have if doctors had surgically removed the tumor.

“I’m hoping to kill it out,” Chuck Young said. “I’m still fighting it. I’m probably going to be fighting it for a long time. We’re just hanging in there and hoping for the best.”

In two months, he’ll have another CAT scan to see if the cancer is gone.

But the procedure left him in pain and unable to get around as easily as before, or to do chores around the house.

Fortunately, the Youngs have gained some help from family. Chuck’s daughter, Darla McCleskey, moved to Coeur d’Alene and takes the kids on Saturdays. They go to swimming lessons at the Kroc Center, where the family received a discounted membership.

“Our friends have been good to us and the church has been good to us,” Shirley Young said.

The couple also expressed sincere thanks to readers who donated $12,000 to a fund for the children in the weeks following a series of stories in The Spokesman-Review last spring. Recently, another $100 contribution appeared out of the blue.

The money was set aside to pay medical expenses for the Godin children: Keira, 10, Destiny, 8, Brayden, 7, and Macaylee, 5. That has included ongoing dental surgery for Keira, who had a double row of teeth. It has also been used for doctors’ appointments and to pay McCleskey to baby-sit, giving the Youngs a break from time to time.

The children, as Canadian citizens living in the United States, do not have health insurance. So far they have not been eligible for financial support programs, such as Medicaid or foster care stipends, because they fall into the cracks between the two countries’ social-welfare systems. They are registered at the nonprofit Dirne Clinic, which provides basic health and dental care at a 50 percent discount. For major medical issues, the Youngs can make the six-hour round-trip drive to Canada, where the children are eligible for government-sponsored health care.

The Coeur d’Alene couple brought the children home in June 2008 after winning custody in Canada. The children were taken from their mother’s home in 2006 after she left them with a family friend and went on vacation. Police responded to complaints about a loud party and removed the children from a home described in court documents as “filthy.” The children were in foster care for two years while the Youngs fought for custody.

The court rejected petitions for custody from both parents, finding them unsuitable. Their maternal grandmother was granted interim custody, but that arrangement also was ultimately rejected. The Youngs applied for custody out of fear the children would remain in foster care.

Shirley Young, 69, holds out hope that her granddaughter, Desiree Joulie, will have a chance to regain at least partial custody one day. Joulie calls her children every other night, recently married her boyfriend and is working two jobs.

The children know how much she and Chuck love them, Shirley Young said, but they want to be with their mother. Joulie, however, only is permitted supervised visitation. “There are worse mothers in the world,” Shirley Young said. “I can give them all a home, but it’s not Mom.”

The children mostly are doing well at Borah Elementary School. Three of them have received awards for performance or effort, complete with gift certificates to Triple Play, an entertainment center. Brayden moved up in Cub Scouts, graduating from Tiger Cub to Wolf Cub. Macaylee, who will be 6 next month, is on the verge of reading and loves books.

But they still exhibit signs of emotional distress, especially regarding their great-grandfather’s health. On the day he went into the hospital for the procedure on his lung, Destiny had an outburst in school, and Macaylee told her teacher he was attacked by a bear. Keira sometimes develops headaches or fevers when he’s away, Shirley Young said.

“When Grandpa’s not well or Grandpa’s not in the house, they have a great fear,” Shirley Young said. “He’s their rock. That’s why we have to do everything we can to keep him around.

“We’re still doing what we did before, which is taking it one day at a time,” she said. “As time goes on, it’s still a very difficult job.”

On her “bad days,” she said, she wonders where the children would be if she and Chuck hadn’t won custody.

“They would’ve been growing up in foster homes,” her husband reminded her quietly.

The Youngs have discussed the possibility of adopting the children to give them coverage under Chuck Young’s Social Security benefits were he to die. But right now that’s not possible, he said, because people older than 70 can’t adopt children in Canada, where the court retains jurisdiction.

“It’s all in God’s hands,” Chuck Young said. “If the good Lord gives me the time, I’ll raise them till they’re grown.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email