Fundraiser set for May 4 for family of 7-year-old boy fighting cancer
LUXEMBURG – It was just a cough that wouldn't go away, the kind that 7-year-olds like James Yedica often get. It most likely saved his life.
Because that cough led Yedica's parents, Jason and Melissa Yedica, to take him to a clinic — where doctors discovered a large, cancerous mass in James' chest.
The mass is gone now, after chemotherapy, but complications arose and chemo treatments will continue for two years. And, bills that already have reached into six figures will continue to come in.
Those interested in helping the family can do so at Be Strong with James, a fundraiser taking place May 4 at JW's Place in Casco to help with the bills from James' treatments.
James, a second-grade student at St. Paul's Lutheran School in Algoma, couldn't shake this cough for about a week last November, Melissa said. He had no other apparent symptoms or health issues, such as a fever, but she and Jason decided to bring him to the Bellin Health Algoma clinic the day before Thanksgiving when the coughing continued.
"We took James in just to see what was going on," Melissa said in an interview at their home with James. "He ended up having an X-ray, and the doctors sent us to the hospital right away."
What Dr. Sarah Sanchez saw on the X-ray was a growth in James' chest and abdomen that surrounded his heart and was pushing aside his lungs and esophagus. She and Dr. Robert Anderson detected it was cancer, called the Yedicas into their office and set up an appointment for them to go to Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
"They told us to pack our bags right away," Melissa said. "As soon as we got to Milwaukee that Friday (Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving), we went into the emergency room right away, set up an IV, started the ball rolling to see what kind of cancer it was."
"I was a little scared," James said.
Doctors at Children's Hospital determined James' cancer type was a non-Hodgkin's, T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, Stage 3, and fortunately not in James' lymph nodes. He underwent six hours of surgery, but the cancerous mass couldn't be removed because it surrounded his heart and a lot of fluid surrounded his heart and lungs.
"(The doctors) said in a few more days, he would have passed away in his sleep," Melissa said. "We're very lucky (Dr. Sanchez) took an X-ray that day."
Complications and community
To start killing the growth, James underwent chemotherapy for 12 days in Milwaukee. The family then was told they could continue the chemo treatments at HSHS St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay under pediatric cancer specialists doctors Catherine Long, Jon Brandt and Audrey Green-Murphy, so they returned home.
One day after coming home, James had to go to St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay for a new problem — a large blood clot in his arm. Then he needed to be treated for low sodium. Then there were two pressure wounds from all the time spent laying down. All around the Christmas holidays, all while continuing chemotherapy and all while dealing with the usual accompanying nausea and fatigue.
Good news came by the end of the year, though, as Dr. Long told the family the cancerous mass in James' chest was totally gone.
That doesn't mean the fight is over. Cancer patients generally need to be free of the malady for five years to be considered cured, so James will continue to get maintenance-level doses of chemotherapy three or four times a week for two years via a port that was placed in his chest. Doctors will check once a month or more to make sure the cancer is staying away. He also was fitted for leg braces to help him walk and undergoes physical therapy once a week as his muscles, dramatically weakened by the drugs, regain their strength.
That's not easy for a 7-year-old as physically active as James, who said he likes to travel with his parents and go to places like the NEW Zoo and Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, go to school — he's doing schoolwork from home for now — and play with his radio-control race truck. He also would help his father, a body technician at Algoma Motors, around the shop after school and volunteer at the Algoma Long Term Care Unit, where Melissa worked until taking leave when James got sick.
"It's tough, a lot," James said about dealing with the side effects. "When I eat a lot, sometimes my tummy doesn't feel good … I like playing outside, playing with my cars, games with my dad. When we go to a hotel, I can't go in the pool."
But James is better now than he was at the end of last year. He was able to visit his school last week and talk to the students about his cancer. and his parents are optimistic.
"Things are looking up," Melissa said. "Four months ago, things were not looking good, but he's able to walk and talk."
Along with James' recovery, the family also has to deal with the financial burden. Even after insurance, medical bills already have run "well past $100,000," Melissa said, and there's less income with Melissa on leave.
"But it's our kid," she said.
That's where the community comes in. Family, friends, members and pastors at St. Paul's Lutheran, organizations, even people the Yedicas don't know have offered support and organized fund raisers.
Among those efforts, St. Paul Lutheran School held a pizza sale, and a page for the family on GoFundMe.com raised more than double its $5,000 goal. Groups like Project Angels Hugs out of Sheboygan sent James video games and Child Life, a program for pediatric patients St. Vincent, helped James and the family prepare for what lay ahead. James' school mates at St. Paul's Lutheran began wearing symbolic bracelets for him.
The May 4 benefit, with food, auctions and raffles on the docket, is organized by a group of friends calling themselves the "Yedi Planners," Melissa said. She said she's amazed by the support James and the family has received.
"We've had so much support from people. Who'd have guessed that?" Melissa said. "Friends and family have been amazing. There's also been huge support from James' school … they've been 100 percent supportive. People come up to us and say they've been following us on Facebook (at the #yedistrong page). We've had people in similar situations with family members reach out to help us with support, with our questions.
"It's very humbling to be part of a community like this … knowing people out there are thinking about us."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
Be Strong with James, a fundraiser for the family of 7-year-old James Yedica to help with the bills from his cancer treatments, runs from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at JW's Place, N5685 County E, Casco. The event will have food, raffles (including 50/50 and gun raffles), and silent and live auctions. For more information, call Laurel Yedica at 920-412-6060 or email [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Fundraiser set for May 4 for family of 7-year-old boy fighting cancer