Battling Cancer as a Family: Student Struggles With a Parent’s Illness

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Ella Thomas and her dad Dave, enjoying a day out together both are happy that they can spend out and life is back to normal. Photo Credit, Ella Tomas

She was forlorn as she came into the room, but put on a smile as she walked up to her dad and told him to drink the glass of water she had set down. She looked at him and all she could think was “has he really lost hope?” The glass sat full of water getting warmer as the day got darker.

Sadly, this was one of the worst days for freshman Ella Thomas, who was only eleven when her “dad,” Dave Thomas was diagnosed with Stage 4 tonsil cancer. Ella had to realize that her life would never be the same while her dad fought for his.

“We were sitting in the living room, my family and I, and my dad told us he had something to tell us and that it was serious.” Ella said, reciting the painful memory, “He told us he was diagnosed with cancer and that he was going to fight it. We all burst out crying.”

Fight is exactly what he did. The Thomas family stuck together though his radiation, chemotherapy, surgery and all the trials and tribulations between. Together Ella’s sisters and their mom learned how to survive even in the darkest days when things seemed hopeless.

Ella’s dad had 6 sessions of chemo and 36 radiation treatments at Bronson Methodist Hospital. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center explains that radiation is when doctors use high energy waves to destroy or damage the cancer cells, while chemotherapy is a series of drugs they use to treat the cancer. Both of these methods are hard on the body mentally and physically. Some possible effects are hair loss, fatigue, nausea and skin and nail changes. According to the Cancer Treatment Center of America, cancer also takes its toll psychologically and can cause depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation, helplessness, vulnerability, and grief

Through all of this Ella continued to go to school. She and her sisters had to help out at home, as her mom was working twelve hour shifts just to get by. People sent them good thoughts and provided meals while her mom was at work.

“He was just too weak to do anything because of the radiation and chemotherapy. I just couldn’t focus on school,” Ella said. “My main concern was if my dad would be okay. I didn’t want to come home and him be passed out.”

Although it was hard, she went to school and as the days passed her dad slowly got better. She witnessed the lively, humourous man that raised her return to heath.

“He’s back at work, he’s a lot better,  and he seems a lot happier now,” Ella said with a smile.

Ella’s dad had about a 45 percent chance that he would survive, but he exceeded his doctors’ anticipations. Ella’s dad is now in remission and working at Bronson. Ella is an eager and happy freshman in high school, and spends every day learning and hanging out with her friends. Each night at the dinner table, she is with her family.

“I had to learn to have hope and faith, that my family would be ok,” Ella said.

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