Lilee-Jean Whittle-Putt has never really liked crawling. Ever since she’s been mobile, she’s been eager to get up on both her little feet and start walking.
It’s an exciting milestone in any young life — a time to be learning balance, and seeing the world from a new perspective.
And just two months shy of her first birthday, Lilee was doing just that. She was starting to move around the house more independently, right on track for her age.
Her parents were learning more about balance, too. Andrew Putt, her father, was working with Pathways, an organization that works with adults with developmental delay, and still finding time to perform with his Chilliwack-based rock band, Pardon My Striptease. Lilee’s mom, Chelsey Whittle, was just re-entering the work force, getting ready for the end of her maternity leave.
Their little family was coming into its own.
But then, Lilee starting falling a bit more than usual, seeming a little off balance.
She started tilting her head to the left more and more.
And at her most recent, regular check-up at the beginning of October, Lilee’s family doctor mentioned that her head looked a little big. He took a measurement — and her parents took note, too. Looking back, that measurement might have been the first sign that something very dire was happening to their baby girl.
“We thought at first it was just a sore neck,” Putt says, tracing over the last two weeks of their lives. But in reality, a mass was growing that was becoming more and more uncomfortable for Lilee. Their “Little Bean” had an aggressive form of cancer, Glioblastoma, and they soon learned that the next few months of their lives would be a day-to-day struggle.
Putt and Whittle tell their story while sitting in the ICU waiting room at Children’s Hospital. They’re losing track of time, counting off the days and doctor visits and surgeries together.
Putt had taken Lilee to a walk-in clinic in Chilliwack, and they were promptly sent to the pediatric centre at Chilliwack General Hospital. From there, it was decided she would need an ultrasound. But since there was no one at the hospital authorized to perform an ultrasound, they were sent home and asked to return in the morning.
That was a hard night, Putt recalls.
“The pressure (of the mass) was getting so great,” he says, and Lilee had been poked and prodded all evening. “We were up every hour. She couldn’t sleep because of the pain.”
As soon as the ultrasound was done the morning, they met with the pediatrician.
“She told us in one breath,” Whittle says. “She told us there was a mass and it was very concerning and she would need surgery that day.
“It was a punch in the gut.”
From there, their lives have included MRIs and surgeries, meetings with oncology teams, long nights in hospital cots, and hours of waiting and praying.
And the entire community is praying along with them. With the power of social media, it didn’t take long for word to travel that Putt and Whittle’s daughter was ill, and that they needed help. While a rotating shift of family members has been keeping Lilee company at the hospital, the support hasn’t stopped there. Donations have poured in, jars are being distributed around Chilliwack and Agassiz (where Putt grew up) and a benefit night has even been planned.
Like many families that face childhood cancers, they’ll need that support to continue caring for Lilee. Neither parent has been able to leave the hospital to return to work. Putt is taking time off to care for Lilee, and Whittle was on her second day of training at Stream that first day in the hospital.
While they’re taking the advice to only tackle one day at a time, they’ve also been told that Lilee could suffer long-term effects, and serious developmental delays. In short, she might always need full-term care.
And that’s if she survives, Putt says, choking back tears.
“But we’re taking one day at a time, and not getting overwhelmed with what the rest of our lives will be like,” Whittle says.
The initial surgery to remove the tumor in her brain had to be stopped at the six-hour mark, due to heavy bleeding. They removed less than half of the tumor, and at press time, the hope was chemotherapy could deal with the rest of it.
But there are “triumphs,” they say. On Sunday afternoon, Lilee was moved to a private room. That day, she also drank a whole bottle.
It’s those triumphs that keep Whittle going, as well as Lilee’s strong spirit.
“And I keep telling myself: Where there’s treatment, there’s hope,” she says.
To find out how to help, visit this website, phone Lisa Putt-Sperling at 604-7824-8419 or donate at the Agassiz Prospera Credit Union with the account number 3037041.
Tickets are almost sold out for Support Lilee-Jean, a fundraiser being held at Major League 2 on November 12. That event will include a silent auction and donations are appreciated.
Editor’s Note: The Youtube video shown was created by a friend of Chelsey and Andrew, and the music in the background is a live recording of Pardon My Striptease performing a song written by Andrew Putt.