Jonah Shankar was only days away from his high school graduation in June when he was rushed to hospital.
He was experiencing a severe headache, a lack of balance and numbness in his hands.
What started out as a trip to the local hospital in the morning and ended at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver that night. An MRI was performed and revealed Jonah had a rare, inoperable tumour attached to his brain stem. Instead of experiencing grad with his friends and classmates from Carihi Secondary, he started a process of chemotherapy and radiation in the summer that lasted six weeks.
At Carihi, he was Athlete of the Year in Grade 11 and was the first male athlete in more than 50 years to make the provincials in four sports: soccer, basketball, cross-country running and mountain biking. As well, he has been a strong student in the classroom, averaging 90 per cent throughout grades 11 and 12.
So far, the radiation he received seems to have been effective. The latest information that the Shankar family received this month was the tumour had shrunk to half its size, but Jonah had reached the limits of the treatment.
“He’s taken as much radiation now as he can have, which had good results,” father Cleon says.
As far as the chemotherapy, the problem was that it was circulating through his system and not able to target the tumour in the brain stem enough.
Jonah and his mother Charlotte are now off to London, England to try a different approach called Convection Enhanced Delivery (CED), which uses robots to insert four catheters directly into the tumour to deliver the doses of chemotherapy.
“The chemo goes into the tumour in a much higher concentration, and it doesn’t affect the rest of his body nearly as much,” Cleon says.
This process will last eight months. His surgery is slated for Sept. 27 and he will receive his first CED treatment and stay the month until his second. From then on, he will be going back and forth between Canada and the United Kingdom for treatments.
Jonah had been planning to start his education in software engineering at the University of Victoria, but he has had to put these plans on hold for now. If everything goes perfectly, it is possible, his father says, that Jonah could start his education in the spring semester, with breaks to take trips to London for the treatment.
“He’s been really positive,” Cleon says. “He’s always been a very quiet guy. He’s taking this as another challenge.”
As the procedure is not covered by the health care system in Canada, it will cost an estimated $350,000.
If all of this has come as a shock to the Shankar family, the support they have received has helped buffer them through the ups and downs. Cleon is grateful for the help from the Children’s Hospital and Ronald McDonald House.
“They look after the child, but they look after you as well,” he says.
Closer to home, Cleon says his hometown of Campbell River has been generous, including Cameryn’s Cause. Already, the community has raised more than $100,000. Earlier this week, the total stood at $92,000 but grew to almost $104,000 by press time.
“The whole community has just been incredibly supportive,” he says.
There are fundraisers planned coming up, such as a special basketball game at Carihi on Oct. 6, 50/50 proceeds from the Campbell River Storm and an event at the Campbell River Golf and Country Club on Oct. 16, to name only a few. The GoFundMe page has a whole list of events to raise funds for Jonah, and there is more information on a Facebook page.
The biggest surprise of all, Cleon says, might have been the $2,200 that the kids and staff from Kidz Connection Childcare Centre raised at a lemonade stand on Sept. 15.
“That blew my mind,” he says. “It’s wonderful.”