It started with vomiting.
Headaches and irregular vision followed and normally high energy levels were replaced with lethargy. Uncharacteristic traits for nine-year-old Emma Smith that prompted her parents to take the grade 4 student to the hospital for a check up. The subsequent MRI and diagnosis changed their lives.
“Even at that stage they were convinced it was a cancer – and it was,” father Darrell said. “Whether it was benign or not, it was described to us as an aggressive rare cancer. A week later we know it was malignant.”
With no time to spare, go home and get a change of clothing, Emma and her mother were air lifted to the Children’s Hospital in Vancouver where doctors performed emergency surgery to remove the lesion to relieve pressure on her brain.
“You think ‘why us?,'” Darrell continued. “But (Emma) very quickly was ‘OK lets deal with this… That has been Emma’s strength. She has accepted that she has to do it, she has a stiff upper lip.”
The surgery helped removed half the cancerous lesion, but radiation treatment followed close behind with six weeks of energy-sapping therapy where the Cloverdale Traditional school student was put into a tight form-fitting mould for treatment, during which she was forced to lie motionless while the radiation washed over her body in an attempt to destroy the cancer.
Two weeks removed from the treatment, Emma is resting up to rebuild her strength in preparation for chemotherapy that awaits the bright young student starting Jan. 24.
“It is quite debilitating. She lost her hair and a fair bit of weight,” Darrell said. “Towards the end we expect it will impact her body significantly and we expect to stay more and more time in Vancouver as the treatment progresses.”
While Emma is undergoing treatment, neither mother Diane, who cares for both Emma and seven-year-old Charlie, or Darrell, a submarine technician, have been able to work. Parents and teachers at the school, including Veronica Crha whose daugher is in Emma’s class, formed Team Emma to help the family with travel expenses, medication and lost income while the couple continued to be bedside with their daughter.
“We can’t make it better, God willing we would if we could,” said Crha, the Team Emma co-ordinator. “I can’t take it away from them but maybe I can ease the financial stress and worry and allow them to be with Emma every day and get her through this.”
Their efforts have raised more than $3,000 for the cause so far, while another fundraising group spearheaded by neighbour Katherine Pickering raised more than $1,400 with a bottle drive.
“The most overwhelming thing to this is this is just a the positivity. So much positive has come out of this struggle that Emma has had,” Crha continued. “Seeing the parents and community come together has been so uplifting and easier on the Smith family – it is overwhelming and it is lovely to see.”
Even her daughter Bella Szonyi, a classmate of Emma’s at school is excited about the possibility of helping so one day she can resume her play dates with her friend so she diligently hand makes Lilac (Emma’s favorite colour) ribbons, more than 500 in fact, in an effort to raise the funds to help her friend get well.
“Emma is really nice, whenever I need help she is there for me,” the nine-year-old classmate said. “I was really sad because we are good friends, I want people to know that she is sick and there is a way to help her.”
The hand-mad ribbons are available for a donation at Pemberton Holmes and Cabin 12 restaurant which also donates $1 to every coffee sold on Monday’s to the cause.
Bottle donations can continue to be brought to Bottle Depot locations where an account has been set up under Team Emma. Cash donations can also be made to a trust account at Coast Capital Savings Credit Union, Emma Grace Smith in Trust. all proceeds goes to Emma and her family.