Ethan Fleming is a fighter, and fighters can get pretty hungry.
He’s facing down his second cancer diagnosis, myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS) and recently the only thing he was craving was a particular Chunky soup. With the empty shelves all around, his mom Tanna couldn’t find a can anywhere near the Ronald McDonald House in Vancouver.
So she did what any mom would do — she posted a plea on Facebook. And the community answered. It didn’t take long for can upon can of Ethan’s favourite soup to arrive at their home in Chilliwack.
It’s that outpouring of love that they are counting on for support, as the family braces for the next big steps. Right now, the family of four is channeling all their strength inward, as one child steps up bravely to help the other.
At age 17, Ethan’s big sister Rebecca just squeezes into the age category for ideal stem cell donors, of 17-35. She’s already been through several rounds of tests, and self isolated herself the very minute school ended for spring break.
It was an easy choice for Rebecca, who was also right beside her brother when fought osteosarcoma for two years, beginning at age seven. He had been cancer free for five years, but the MDS was caused by his previous chemotherapy.
As it turns out, Rebecca is a seven out of 10 match to her brother. She’s healthy and strong, and there are no cancer markers in her blood. As it looks right now, she will be harvested for her stem cells just after Easter weekend. A special machine to do the work has been put on order, and the Fleming’s medical team is preparing for a successful transplant.
But these aren’t ordinary times. The whole process is fraught with potential problems due to the COVID-19 pandemic. None of the family can get sick — dad Walter is already only visiting infrequently. He is a milk truck driver and considered an essential worker, doing his part to keep milk flowing to local grocery stores.
It’s impossible to know how overloaded the hospital will be in two weeks. Equipment that is needed for COVID-19 patients is also equipment that is needed for Ethan.
The doctors can’t get sick. The medical staff can’t sick. And once the process starts, it has to forge ahead.
They can’t leave the Ronald McDonald House either, as restrictions on moving in and out have changed due to the pandemic.
And so they wait for the word that it’s all going ahead, and they try to stay positive.
But there is something that they are asking anyone who reads this to do. They want everyone to consider giving blood, and to especially consider registering as a stem cell donor. It’s not a simple procedure to be a donor, but it’s nothing compared to what Ethan and other cancer patients endure.
“It’s not a simple process but are you willing to save someone’s life by doing this?,” Tanna says. “I’ve been pushing as much as I can, ‘please donate, please donate, please donate,’ there’s only so much I can do as a mom.”
So much of what is happening now is in the hands of others, she says. But she can get the message out about blood and stem cell donation. And she can share her son’s story.
And like all families who are focused on keeping a loved one alive, they are graciously accepting funds as well. There were several events set up to help the Flemings financially, including one planned for The Well at Elements Casino in Chilliwack. But as the concerns over COVID-19 grew, the events all had to be cancelled.
There is a Facebook page called Ethan’s World, where they post photos and updates as much as possible. There is also a link to the GoFundMe account a family member set up to organize donations, called The Fleming Family.
Both kids are already busy members of the community, Tanna says, and she’s proud of Chilliwack for supporting them in return.
Ethan is a War Champ and has been in the Remembrance Day parade laying a wreath for the veterans, for example.
Right now, the hardest part for all them is the separation of the family.
“I’m doing okay,” Tanna says. “But it’s hard for me, I have a hard time because Walter’s not here. And for Ethan, that’s the hardest part of the transplant. They’re best buds.”
To learn more about the stem cell donation process, or how you can give blood, visit blood.ca.