Kylee Houle shaves Morinville Public School Pincipal Wayne Rufiange’s head with help from mom Lisa and sister Tristen. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

by Stephen Dafoe

How do you get cancer? Can you catch cancer from someone who has it? What colour is a lymph node when you take it out after a biopsy. Such were the questions asked of and patiently answered by Dianne Tuterra, Child Life Specialist with Kids with Cancer. Tuterra spoke to Morinville Public School students Friday morning about what fellow student Kylee Houle and her family have been going through over the past few months.

Houle, a six-year-old Grade 1 student, was diagnosed with Anaplastic Large Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma In April. The school and school community have been supportive of Houle and her family since the diagnosis. Friday’s gathering was not only an opportunity for children and teachers to become educated about Kylee Houle’s illness; it was an opportunity for 45 students, teachers, and community members to shave their heads to show the first grader she was not alone. The Houle family also had the opportunity to express publicly their appreciation for everything the school and school community have done.

That support included students holding a cookie sale, a book sale, and even two boys dressing as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and standing on the sidewalk posing with people for photos in exchange for a donation.
Though the family do not need the monies raised, the funds will help others – half going back to student initiatives at MPS and half going to fill the treasure box at the Stollery Children’s Hospital, a portal of gift items children can draw from after having their chemotherapy treatments.

“I can’t even put it into words to thank you,” Kylee’s mother, Lisa Houle, said during Friday’s assembly. “It’s completely overwhelming, and I can’t thank you enough. It is important for you all to understand the impact that you have made in our lives. You have changed somebody’s world. You need to understand that.”

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A world turned upside down

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This past St. Patrick’s Day as Kylee Houle was getting into bed for the night; she told her mom and dad that she had a lump on her neck. The parents assumed it could be lymph nodes as their daughter had been sick with a cold.
The next day the Houles called the paediatrician and were advised it might be from the cold. They were told to bring her in if it did not decrease.

A week later it had grown, so the Houles took their daughter for blood work, a chest x-ray, and an ultrasound.
“The bloodwork came back kind of wonky, but they said, ‘You’re sick. It could be normal,’” Lisa Houle said, adding the chest x-ray was normal, but the ultrasound came back inconclusive. “That afternoon the paediatrician called and said it is cancer until it is proven otherwise.”

web-KoltenKylee was referred to a surgeon and the paediatrician offered to draft a letter to an oncologist.
“We were like – this can’t be. She’s not sick. You’ve got it wrong,” Lisa Houle said of the family’s initial reaction.

The family took the referral letter immediately to the oncologist. Houle said the paediatric surgeon admitted Kylee immediately.

“He said she needs to be in tonight,” Lisa Houle said. “A week later she was in having a biopsy done.”
Houle said her research showed that this type of cancer was 70 to 90 per cent advanced by the time things got to the point they were at. Add to that, a bit of wheezing from the previous cold, and the Houles feared cancer had spread to her lungs.

But such was not the case.

“The PET [positron emission tomography] scan showed it was localized in her neck,” said father Andre Houle. “There was one spot in her abdomen they were worried about so they had us go back for another ultrasound. It was just leftover dye.”

The sit-down consultation revealed that Kylee had Anaplastic Large Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
“I would consider we are one of the luckiest people in the world because it is Stage One Localized,” Lisa Houle said. “We managed to get in to see a paediatrician who didn’t wait.”

The cancer is rare – accounting for 10 to 15 per cent of Lymphomas, and the Houles were told their daughter has an 88 per cent chance of an event-free survival.

The Houles remain thankful for that information and for the constant support from the students and parents of Kylee’s school – students who have raised funds and visited their daughter in the hospital, and the parents who have driven them there and made meals while they take Kylee for treatments.

“It’s amazing how people come together,” Lisa Houle said, adding she hoped to one day find a way to tell those outside the community what an amazing community Morinville is.

Above: The Houle family gather at the assembly.

Kolten Stepanick has his head shaved.

Ethan Post checks his new look out in the mirror.

-Stephen Dafoe Photos

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