One year ago, Jonah Shankar was only days away from graduating with his friends at Carihi when he received news that would up-end his life and his family’s lives.
Something seemed different. He’d been feeling off physically, he’d shot an extremely poor round of golf one day, he’d lost a game of ping-pong to his brother.
“I got super mad because he beat me,” he says over coffee at Dave’s Bakery in Willow Point.
When he started experiencing symptoms like a horrible headache and numbness in his hands, he ended up in hospital, undergoing an MRI to find out what might be wrong.
On June 19, he was diagnosed with a rare tumour in his brain stem. Instead of getting ready for post-graduation life at university, he spent the summer undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. This had some effect on the size of the tumour, but he could not take any more radiation. He needed a treatment that required travelling overseas. He admits now last summer, with the diagnosis and treatment, is a bit of a blur, as he spent a lot of time in bed.
“Now, it seemed definitely fast. I don’t remember it too much,” he says. “I remember right at the start I could hardly walk.”
One year later, he is back in Campbell River and on the mend.
“I had double vision a month ago that went away,” he says.
The option available to Jonah was called Convection Enhanced Delivery (CED). The process uses robots to insert catheters into the tumour, meaning chemotherapy doses can be targeted directly at a higher concentration level with less effect on the rest of his body. The procedure is not covered in Canada, so this meant flying to the United Kingdom several times through the spring for treatments, which were estimated to cost $350,000. Then there was all the travel and medication. Ultimately, he and his mom made four trips, three of which were for a month at a time, while Jonah’s dad and brother stayed back in Campbell River.
Instantly, the community of Campbell River responded, with fundraiser after fundraiser and a GoFundMe page that easily surpassed its initial target. One of the most unexpected successes was a children’s lemonade stand that raised more than $2,000.
The family, says mom Charlotte, was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community, which helped make the travelling and treatments easier.
“We were all blown away,” she says. “I think it was over 30 different fundraisers…. We just want to take this opportunity to thank the community. We’re just completely overwhelmed by the response, and we wouldn’t be able to do all these treatments if it wasn’t for them. It’d be a different story.”
Jonah admits it’s a little unsettling these days when people he doesn’t even know offer to help.
“Someone tried to pay for my coffee,” he says.
For the treatments, with Charlotte making the trips with Jonah, they finally decided it would be easier to remain in the UK for the last few months of the treatment, especially after medical staff increased the frequency of doses. Fortunately, Charlotte had family in the UK.
“We ended up staying more than we thought,” she says.
There was also lots of down time for Jonah between treatments, and he got hooked on British comedies and doing all the puzzles in the local newspapers. It also allowed mother and son to spend time with relatives around London, and Jonah had the chance to visit sites like Stonehenge and the zero-degrees latitude mark at Greenwich.
“In the end, it wasn’t that bad,” Jonah says. “You’re only in the hospital three days at a time.”
The treatments ended in March, so it was time to start on his drug treatment and come home to Campbell River.
After such a disruptive procedure, Jonah is not overloading himself these days. Always a fine athlete, he is finding ways to stay active though.
“I’ve started doing a little workout routine,” he says.
It was developed by his former gymnastics coach, and he’s been active in other ways, such as snowmobiling on Mt. Washington or surfing in Tofino. Most notably, he went on a skydiving trip with his uncle and some friends to mark his birthday. Actually, his gymnastics coach was Robert MacNeill, who is a skydiving instructor and who went along on the skydive for assistance, while Roy Wharton of Pacific Airsports took them up in the plane.
He’s also been working at Storey Creek Golf Club one day a week and helping his aunts move, including one who has just gave him a new cousin.
Jonah has been through a lot, as the treatment has been taxing on his system, and the process of resuming life won’t be instant. He’s been making progress though, and his mom says the new drug treatment is showing good results.
“The latest scan showed improvement,” says Charlotte. “He’s doing a lot better than we expected at this point.”