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Cancer-free

Posted on 18/04/2009 12:00am

By Monique Tamminga - Langley Times

As six-year-old Emma Sheepwash draws a picture, her mother Tracy's eyes well up with tears when talking about her little girl's battle with cancer.

It's been an emotional, trying time, but with a B.C. Children's Hospital courage trophy in her small hand, little Emma can officially say she has beaten cancer. Easter Sunday marked the one month anniversary.

When Tracy says these words, tears spill down her face and Emma disappears into the hallway.

Emma, with her bald head showing new signs of hair growth, returns quickly with a tissue for her mom.

"There's been a lot of tears," Tracy admits. Emma agrees, with a little smile meant just for her mom. Through all the pain and misery of a year's worth of chemo, radiation, blood transfusions and surgery, Emma has kept everyone's spirits up.

"One time, we ran into a woman I knew through work at the [cancer] clinic. When I found out she had breast cancer I started to cry. Emma, as sick as she was, put her arm around the woman and rubbed her shoulder which made me cry even more," Tracy said with a bit of a laugh.

It was a year and a half ago that Emma stole the hearts of Langley residents, when her story of being diagnosed with cancer was told in the Langley Times.

A picture of her in a baseball uniform ran beside the story. When the Times went to see her on Wednesday, she was getting ready for her first softball practice. It's a stark change from Emma screaming in pain from a tumour the size of a grapefruit wedged between her ribs and her lungs.

"Nothing is as bad is hearing your child has cancer," said Tracy who quit her job as a dental hygienist to be with Emma full-time.

Family, friends and neighbours rallied around the Walnut Grove girl after her diagnosis of Ewing's Sarcoma.

Neighbour Michelle Carroll decided to organize a bottle drive for the Sheepwash family, knowing finances would get tight.

Langley residents responded, bringing more than $3,000 worth of bottles in. Strangers ended up piling bottles into their cars to bring to the return depot.

Her school rallied around her as did her neighbourhood friend Devan who held fundraisers for Emma. Fraser Downs race track in Cloverdale was touched by Emma's story and also held a fundraiser that brought thousands to the Sheepwash family. Emma's father's work put together a fundraiser, other companies did the same. Even their bank, the Bank of Montreal, gave them a four-month reprieve on their mortgage.

"We would have lost the house otherwise," said Derek, Emma's dad.

Being such a tiny girl made fighting cancer especially difficult.

"Yet she never complained, she's very brave," said Tracy.

With her type of cancer, she had to have rounds of chemo six days a week. She had to be woken every two hours for it.

She was only supposed to do six rounds of chemo and her oncologist was to see if she should have radiation or surgery.

"She ended up going through 18 rounds of chemo, surgery and radiation."

For the last four rounds, Tracy drove Emma to Vancouver every day for treatment.

"We put a lot of miles on our van," she said.

Through it all, the Sheepwashes kept their sense of humour as best they could. When Emma lost her hair she asked to be Austin Power's Mini Me for Halloween. Her big brother Andrew won a Siblings Award for being so supportive. Now the two are back to bugging each other, both happy to recount stories of who did what to whom.

"He bugs me a lot and he thinks it's funny," said Emma.

"It's my job," replied Andrew with a big, toothless smile.

Just because Emma is cancer free, doesn't mean the ache and turmoil just goes away, said Tracy.

"We are all working on getting back to normal," she said. Emma still has to have MRIs every three months and now has sensitivity to noise in music class and has anxiety in large crowds.

With all the radiation she had, her left shoulder will always be a bit smaller as will her left lung. Doctors will monitor her liver and kidneys which also take a hit from the radiation.

"Knowing she was so brave during her treatments, she'll get through this too," said Tracy.

In this year's B.C. Children's Hospital's fundraising calendar "Kourageous Kids" that goes to the oncology department, Emma's month is April (her drawing is on the front page of this paper). She has sold more than 200 copies outside Save On Foods in Walnut Grove. (There are three children from Langley in the calendar, including Walnut Grove's Brendan Whieldon.)

Even as Emma goes back to being a kid, she's already thinking of ways she can help other kids just like her. As soon as her hair grows back, she wants to donate it, she said proudly, before heading off to the baseball diamond.