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Three-year-old battles rare form of cancer


Saturday May 06, 2006

By Carol McHugh

for The Times-Journal

Shelby Elizabeth Marie Gagne was born on April 22, 2003. She is an amazingly beautiful, vibrant and healthy little child with a zest for life and a feisty, spirited nature that some may refer to as "stubborn" and "strong willed." These, however, would be the very qualities Shelby would need in her coming battle.

Feb. 22, 2005, was the date that forever changed Shelby's life and the lives of our entire family.

"Out of the blue" a lump appeared on Shelby's left shoulder area the size of a ping-pong ball.

Following weeks of confusing and varied diagnoses from several doctors that ranged from soft tissue damage to bursitis, Shelby was referred to Children's Hospital of Western Ontario where she was finally diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma.

This is a rare form of cancer that invades the bones and soft tissue. It was confirmed that Shelby was already in stage four... the last stage. By this time the tumour on her shoulder had rapidly grown to the size of a clementine and several tumours were now found in her lungs.

A multitude of tests revealed that surgery was of an urgent nature. On April 7, 2005, the tumour was removed along with 75 per cent of the muscle in that area. At this point, Shelby was given a 25 per cent chance of surviving the next three years.

Following surgeries, Shelby immediately began receiving the most intensive chemotherapy treatment available in the hopes of saving her life.

Included in her treatment protocol were five weeks of radiation to her arm and shoulder area. This resulted in third-degree burns causing excruciating pain and many weeks of discomfort. It would also halt any further growth of her left arm.

In total, Shelby would receive 14 rounds of chemo ... every 21 days she would have three-day and five-day rounds of various intense chemo drugs.

Shelby also received two weeks of "full lung" radiation immediately following her chemotherapy.

The majority of the past year has been spent living in Children's Hospital or the "Hilton" as we lovingly refer to it.

Attempting to live this "new normal" has been a fine balancing act in order to maintain as much normality as possible.

It has truly been a very emotional and stressful roller coaster for all involved, but learning to take only one day at a time and appreciate each and every precious moment along the way has been the best and only method of coping with such a life threatening and altering illness.

This has been an extremely arduous journey, especially for a small child. Cancer does not discriminate. It attacks relentlessly and ceaselessly.

There isn't an explanation as to why Shelby became sick. All we know is God has a plan for each of us and for each plan there is a purpose.

Some of us, like Shelby, will accomplish their purpose without even realizing it. Shelby's optimistic attitude and engaging personality captivates the lives of many people.

She has an extraordinary purpose in life, and that is to provide inspiration and hope for others. Her bright eyes and huge smile light up any room she enters. Her contagious little giggle can melt the coldest of hearts.

It is through Shelby's illness that she has enlightened the lives of so many around her as to how fragile and precious life truly is. Something we all too often take for granted.

It is through her illness that some of those around her have realized that life is too short to be afraid of our feelings. Shelby's cancer has been beaten back by the power of love, the most powerful of emotions and should be embraced.

To be loved by someone unconditionally and completely is to reach into your soul and feel warmth.

It is through her illness that she has shown there is no guarantee for the future ... only dreams for it.

It is through her illness that some of us who haven't talked to God in a while have once again begun to pray.

It is through her illness that we have joined the hands of those familiar with those of strangers, to form one long chain.

Shelby has already accomplished so much in such a short amount of time and each day she continues to touch the hearts of many. That is her "purpose."

Someone once quoted ..."It is not how tragically we suffer, but how miraculously we live."

Shelby has shown courage and bravery beyond belief. She has endured so much pain and suffering that no child should ever have to experience and yet she keeps smiling.

The original journey has now ended and we are now walking a new path.

Results of recent testing indicate that any further treatment for Shelby is no longer a viable option and we recognize that he life will indeed be very short.

We have always believed that Shelby's quality of life is of utmost importance, so we intend to live each and every precious moment as if it's our last together.

It has been the most difficult journey ever to watch Shelby, who we love unconditionally and with all our hearts and souls, go through such suffering.

Although there is little others can say or do to make it easier for us, knowing that so many people care refreshes our spirits and comforts our hearts.

To individually thank everyone for their encouragement and kindness would be next to impossible. The outpouring of support we have received from our community, St. Thomas, has been overwhelming and generous beyond belief.

Not only has this community joined forces to raise the much-needed funds for Shelby's care, but awareness of childhood cancer has been raised to new level.

"If the only prayer we ever say is thank you ... that will be enough." So with indebted hearts ... we thank you.

We extend our gratitude to each and every one of you for your continued support, thoughts and prayers.

Every night before we put Shelby to bed, we kiss her goodnight, hold her a little tighter, a little longer and thank God for lending us our little angel, and then ask Him for nothing else, except one more day.

To leave a message for Shelby or her family, contact www.caringbridge.org/visit/shelbygagne.

Carol McHugh of St. Thomas is Shelby Gagne's maternal "Grammy."

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