For one Rimbey family, September brought more than the start of a new school year in an uncertain time due to the ongoing pandemic.
Michael Bellows, who will be turning 13 next month, had a little bit of a cough for a couple of weeks, had lost some weight and just didn’t look well, says his father Darell Bellows.
On Sept. 13, his stepmother Angel Reck decided it was time to have him checked out and took him to emergency at the Rimbey hospital.
Although COVID-19 had to be ruled out first, it was soon discovered that his white blood cell count wasn’t what it should be.
He was sent to the Stollery Children’s Hospital that day where he was placed in isolation until a second COVID-19 test was done.
After several tests, the diagnosis was every family’s worst nightmare: cancer. Michael has stage 4b Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Although Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is one of the most curable types of cancer, the ‘4b’ denotes that the cancer has spread to other organs that are further away from the original cancer.
Darell says it was likely a “blessing in disguise” that Angel had been working from home more lately, as it likely made it possible for her to notice the subtle symptoms, as he had been trucking away from home at the time and wouldn’t have known.
Now, just a month later, Michael has completed two of five rounds of chemotherapy, though more chemo may be necessary beyond that, depending on how the cancer responds.
At the beginning of each chemo cycle, Michael stays at the Stollery, then he can be home for 13 days, and does a day trip back to the hospital near the end of the cycle, before the next round begins.
It’s been difficult for the whole family, including Michael’s twin brother Ryan and their older sister Grace.
The days that Michael is home, his family and doctors want him to maintain as normal of a life as possible, says Darell.
which means, despite going through chemo, Michael has been attending school in Grade 7.
He’s been “gung ho” to go to class, and see his friends, which he had just started reconnecting with, as he hadn’t seen them since March.
He’s missed a couple of days of school when he just wasn’t feeling well enough, but “tries to stay strong,” says Darell.
“He’s a pretty strong, resilient kid that way.”
About a week ago, Michael’s hair began to fall out and his dad shaved his head with him in solidarity for what he’s going through.
“I told him, ‘Nobody goes through this alone,’ and that he didn’t have to feel awkward, which he doesn’t at all.”
The Bellows have had times were they were unemployed or underemployed during COVID-19, and all the while cost of living is going up, and there are costs associated with Michael’s treatment, such as travel and accommodations when Ronald MacDonald House or Papa Ken’s Cancer Society is full, says Darell.
Bellows says the government assistance provided for caregivers “doesn’t add up” too much, either.
Both Darell and Angel have taken time off of work to help care for Michael as well, leaving them with little income.
While it’s hard to ask for help, Bellows says he’s glad he lives in a community that’s supported his family through it all — through losing his first wife, and his children’s mother in 2016, to Michael’s recent diagnosis.
The support from the community has been felt, then and now.
A GoFundMe set up by Darell’s cousin Amanda Mercredi has reached nearly $10,000. The Rimbey A&W where Grace works is holding a fundraiser, and friends are putting on a Halloween event and silent auction.
“It’s overwhelming, to put it bluntly,” said Darell.
“Once again, here we are needing help and everyone is helping out again.”
The initial GoFundMe goal was $10,000, but Mercredi says she’s raising that, as the treatment may be a long road.
“The community response has been great, the generosity of our small community never ceases to amaze me,” she said.
“I hope we can continue to rally around Michael and his family as they’ve already been through so much.”
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/f/support-for-mikey-and-bellows-family.