Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Shayna's story


Her mom looking for help

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        With admirable composure and virtually no drama, Ellen Flannery tells this story of her baby daughter's cancer.

        The Flannerys were in church on Christmas Eve in 1997. Max was 4, squirming probably, but Shayna, not quite 6 months old, was placid in her baby carrier, her very blue eyes open very wide. Sam Flannery noticed light bouncing off his daughter's eye “almost like a mirror.” During the service, he kept peering at the child, finally deciding it wasn't his imagination.

        When they got home, Sam covered the baby's right eye. No reaction. “We knew she had little or no vision in that eye,” Ellen says. The day after Christmas, Sam and Ellen took Shayna to Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medial Center, where, of course, they wanted to be told that they were overprotective parents, that it was nothing.

        But Ellen says they were not in the pediatric ophthalmologist's office for “more than a minute when we knew it was bad.” Shayna had tumors in both eyes. Retinoblastoma. Cancer.

Modern arsenal

        As her baby was immobilized for a CAT scan, Ellen sang “Silent Night” to her. When she hears that carol now, instead of holiday lights and snow, “I picture all those doctors, shaking their heads.” Shayna's right eye was removed. “You go from worrying about her having to wear glasses to the knowledge that her life is in danger.”

        The Flannerys were sent to Philadelphia for chemotherapy to treat the tumors in the other eye. Between here and Philadelphia, the little girl received an impressive volley from the arsenal of modern medicine — cryosurgery, radiation, lasers.

        Now, Shayna is “the picture of health,” according to her mother. She'll start kindergarten in Loveland in a few weeks, beautifully bespectacled and with no memory of the months of treatment.

        It's something her mother will never forget. “I am grateful,” Ellen says. “I want to help somebody else.”

        She asked if I'd help, too, brainstorming, she called it. I told her Enquirer readers are lots brainier than I am and if she explains what she needs, maybe you'd have some ideas. Her dream is that her newly formed CancerFree Kids Alliance can do for pediatric cancer what the Race for the Cure has done for breast cancer.

        “Awareness,” she says. “And money for research.”

        Rich Dineen, on the development staff at Children's Hospital and the father of a boy who overcame childhood cancer, says, “Those of us who have seen it know she's right — trying to get dollars humming into the research side. Treatment is great. Prevention is better.”

        Ellen needs volunteers and ideas for fund-raisers. If you are interested, e-mail, write or call me, and I'll pass it along. Ellen quit her marketing job to work full-time to beat cancer that — and here her composure slips just a little — “goes after little kids.”

        She hands me a sheet of paper with the notation, “Since you woke up this morning, 30 parents in this country have been told that their child has cancer.”

        Which is more drama than any parent ever wants to handle.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.

       

       



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