Fostoria Review Times


The following appeared in the October 26, 2002 issue of the Fostoria Reveiw Times and is reproduced here with their permission. Thanks!

A 5-year-old fighter

By BETH HENDRICKS
STAFF WRITER

SENECA COUNTY — Five-year-old Christi Thomas looks like your typical little girl. She likes the Care Bears and watching Magic School Bus, and loves tending to her kitten, Buttercup. She enjoys visiting the library, and has already announced her plans to be a doctor.

But, get to know Christi and you’ll also discover things she doesn’t like: blood transfusions, hospital gowns and IVs. And she, and her family and friends, despise what has caused it — a children’s cancer of the nervous system known as neuroblastoma.

Christi is the daughter of Shane Thomas, who works for Old Fort Bank and serves on the board of the Fostoria Area Chamber of Commerce. In early September, Christi, her 3-year-old sister, Shayla, and mother, Angela, spent the day exploring COSI and shoe shopping in Columbus. Four days later, she was screaming in pain and unable to breathe. Physicians at Mercy Hospital in Tiffin ordered a CAT scan and saw “something” — it took a doctor, nun, priest and nurse to tell the Thomases the news.

Christi had a 3-inch tumor, possibly cancerous, touching her heart and spine. It has been likened to an octopus, with its tentacles wrapped around her heart. Physicians have said it is “the worst possible cancer and Christi has the worst possible form,” a stage four.

Ten days after her diagnosis and subsequent transfer to Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Angela “allowed” herself to imagine it was all just a bad dream.

“I was waiting for someone to pop in the room (Christi’s hospital room) and say, ‘Oops! We made a mistake! She doesn’t have cancer. You can go home now,’” she said.

It never happened, and Shayne and Christi have been thrust into a world of potent chemotherapy drugs, semiweekly trips to Columbus and the prospect of bone marrow transplantation. On top of it all, they have a spirited 5-year-old (and a 3-year-old at home) to occupy their time.

“It’s probably hard to believe, but at this point our hospital days are extremely busy,” Shayne said. “One of us is entertaining Christi while the other is advocating on her behalf trying to get her meals and snacks delivered, medicine dosed out properly and on time, and reminding staff and volunteers to wash their hands when they enter her room.”

Christi’s hospital days are on a tightly-regimented schedule. Two days a week for three weeks Christi will be treated at the hospital; and, one week a month she’ll receive chemotherapy. After five months, surgery will be performed to remove the tumor, which doctors hope is responding to the treatments by gradually shrinking.

Once she is completely healed from the surgery, Christi will undergo a bone marrow transplant, keeping her in the hospital for eight weeks beginning in early March. Everything hinges on her ability to stay well enough to continue with the intense chemotherapy concoctions she’s receiving.

During her “off” time, when the family is at home, Christi is not allowed to attend church or school, visit friends, restaurants or grocery stores, or have visitors due to her weakened immune system and the severity of her cancer. Even Shayla has been unable to continue going to preschool, due to the risk of bringing infections from other children into the home.

Shayne and Angela have been transformed into quasi-doctors, giving daily injections, caring for Christi’s Broviac (a central venous catheter), administering medicines and doing periodic fever and weight checks. If Christi’s temperature reaches 101 degrees, the family must race to Columbus; at 103 degrees, her physicians have instructed that she be airlifted to Columbus Children’s Hospital. The Thomases always have their bags packed and their car loaded.

“Always being ‘on alert’ is a bit stressful, I must admit,” Angela said. “We’ve been told to expect that she will have to be LifeFlighted two to three times this year. That’s a scary thought; however, knowing that is a reality allows us to be mentally prepared when it happens.”

The family is fighting together, however, right down to the chemotherapy-induced hair loss — before Christi’s hair fell out, Shayne shaved his head, making the two “bald Twinkies,” according to Christi. Even Angela and Shayla got in on the act, opting for short haircuts so everyone matches.

“We are at the beginning of a very long uphill battle, a downright bloody war, we’ve been informed. We have no idea what the future will bring, but we are taking one day at a time and trying to make the best out of it,” Angela said.

“Christi’s statistics include a 35 percent chance of surviving for two to five years and a five to 15 percent change of living more than 20 years. We refuse to accept this verdict as a death sentence, but as a test that she will pass just like she’s passed so many other tests with flying colors. She’s never failed to amaze us with her exceptionalities. That hope is what we’re holding on to.

“If she does survive, the long-term side effects are absolutely horrible; however, we’ll take each hurtle one jump at a time while enjoying this precious gift from God each day that she is here on Earth with us.

“From what I’ve read, I’ve learned that spirit has a lot to do with kicking this beast,” Angela continued. “Therefore, we’re trying to keep her spirits bright and cheery at all times despite the fact that we sometimes have to take turns stepping out into the hallway to let our tears roll.”

Friends find ways to help

Family, friends and neighbors have pitched in to help the Thomases, doing housekeeping, yard work, meal preparation and laundry. Other neighbors donated the use of their leased Pontiac Aztek for the numerous drives to Columbus.

The Thomases insurance policy has a limit, and many of the clinical trials needed are not covered at all by insurance. Additionally, the Thomases have started investigating housing options to prevent the car sickness Christi experiences during the drive between Tiffin and Columbus.

There are several options for those interested in helping Christi and the rest of the Thomas family.

Republic Elementary School, Angela’s employer, will host a spaghetti dinner fund-raiser Sunday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., with all proceeds benefiting Christi and her family. Dinners cost $6 for adults and $4 for children, 11 years old and younger, and take-out orders will be available.

The “Christi Thomas Fund” has been started by Shane’s employer, Old Fort Banking Company. Donations can be sent to: Old Fort Banking Company, c/o Christi Thomas Fund, 33 E. Market St., Tiffin, OH 44883.

The Ritz Theatre, in conjunction with Old Fort Banking Company and Elmwood Assisted Living, will donate a portion of ticket costs for shows Nov. 23 and Dec. 7 and 14, and will be hosting “Christi Can” receptions to raise additional funds for the Thomases’ battle with neuroblastoma. For more information regarding the reception or show tickets, contact Carolyn Daughenbaugh at the Ritz Theatre by calling (419) 448-8544, ext. 13.

Cards and gifts for Christi, Shayla, Angela or Shayne may be sent in care of Old Fort Banking Company.

For more information, visit www.christithomas.com.