In 2006, Shelley Schneider noticed what she thought was a bug bite on her son’s stomach – but the bite didn’t go away. When she took 8-year-old Clayton to the dermatologist they discovered he had anaplastic large cell lymphoma, a type of skin cancer.
Thankfully, the cancer hadn’t spread elsewhere, so Clayton had the lesion removed and got on with the rough-and-tumble life of a grade-school student. Their relief was short-lived, however. “Two years later it came back, and this time in his lymph nodes,” said Schneider.
After surgery, Clayton endured a year of chemotherapy. “It was a yucky experience,” Schneider said. “He missed a lot of school.”
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and because of her son’s experience Schneider wanted to let the community know about the need for funding and research to combat childhood cancers. “There isn’t enough research or good treatments out there,” she said.
She and Clayton decided to organize an awareness walk in Medical Lake. “It was just going to be me and Clayton,” said Schneider. “We were going to put up some fliers and have people meet us at the lake.”
But when Mary Anne Ruddis, executive director of Candlelighters of the Inland Northwest, got wind of the idea, she offered the support of Candlelighters. Schneider is excited about the partnership.
“Now, it’s this huge thing with T-shirts and posters and lots of people!” she said.
That help is especially appreciated, because last week she learned Clayton’s cancer has returned. Schneider said, “It was in remission, but we kept watching – kept waiting …”
Connie Hill-Bunch knows exactly what that vigilance is like. Hill-Bunch is the chairperson for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. She will be participating in the walk and wearing a button featuring a picture of her only child, her daughter Amanda.
At age 11, Amanda was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor. Radiation and chemotherapy sent the cancer into remission, but, Hill-Bunch said, “The threat of the tumor returning always hung over our heads.”
But the brain tumor didn’t return. Instead, in 2006, at age 17, Amanda was diagnosed with a very aggressive type of leukemia. As she prepared for a stem cell transplant, Amanda wrote her bucket list, determined to accomplish as much as she could in case the transplant wasn’t successful.
And it wasn’t. Amanda spent Christmas Day planning her memorial service and died Dec. 30, 2006. She was 18.
Hill-Bunch said, “The worse thing is to watch your child suffer so much when there’s nothing you can do. You wish that you could take it on yourself.”
However, she said the community, caring and support she found at Candlelighters made their journey easier, and that’s why she’s delighted that all funds raised during the walk will go to the local Candlelighters organization.
“We hope lots of people will come out and support our kids battling cancer,” she said.
As Schneider readied gold ribbons for Saturday’s walk, she echoed Hill-Bunch’s hopes. Thirteen-year-old Clayton is once again facing chemotherapy and his long term prognosis is unknown. Schneider said, “All I know is it just keeps coming back.”
She and other organizers believe raising awareness and more funding for research are crucial to combating the cruelty of a disease that takes the young and vulnerable.
“Childhood cancer is considered rare, but it’s still the leading cause of death by disease for children,” said Hill-Bunch. “It’s not rare when it’s your child.”