Shaelyn Stonnell doesn’t remember much about the weeks she and her mother, Dana, spent inside a small hospital room – she was only a toddler at the time – but the healthy, bright-eyed girl does know that BC Children’s Hospital saved her life.
When Shaelyn was two years old, she and her older brothers came down with the flu. All three children had typical flu-like symptoms but there was something different about Shaelyn. Dana noticed that her daughter’s stomach was unusually swollen and solid. She brought Shaelyn to BC Children’s Emergency Department suspecting her daughter had an infection.
After an ultrasound and blood work, Dana was blindsided by the discovery of a tumour embedded in Shaelyn’s adrenal gland. After further testing, doctors determined that the tumour was stage IV neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of childhood cancer. Shaelyn was admitted to the hospital that evening, and immediately began her month-long intensive chemotherapy treatment.
After Shaelyn’s fifth round of chemotherapy, almost five months after her diagnosis, she had surgery to remove the now shrunken tumour. Two months later, the little girl underwent a stem cell transplant and had to remain in an isolation room for a month to allow her new immune system to become stronger. Shaelyn wanted her mommy close to her and it was during this time that Dana slept in the same bed as her fragile and precious daughter. Dana was also comforted that her sons were well looked after at home, and that Shaelyn’s grandmother was at the hospital almost daily for support.
Shaelyn’s transplant and treatment protocol were successful. Dana is thankful her daughter doesn’t have any memory of her treatment or the pain she endured, and she believes the family’s positive outlook was a big part of what helped them cope. She says Shaelyn looks at photos from that time, but now only has good memories of her follow-up care at Children’s Hospital.
Dana says she wouldn’t wish upon anyone what they went through as a family, but in the end, is glad for the experience. They’ve become close friends with nurses and other patient families, and realized how much how wonderful their own support network is. The experience has also given the family a greater perspective on what’s important in life.