It was just before Black Friday, and Stephanie Fast was at a Niagara greenhouse where she works, preparing for the busy weekend while her daughter Evabeth had a playdate.
All week, Evabeth’s friend Athina had been trying to get her over to climb trees, and for some reason, Athina’s mother had a “nagging feeling” to have her over too.
It’s almost eerie, said Stephanie, as if there was some force driving what was about to happen.
While climbing, Evabeth took a small tumble — only about three feet — out of a tree. Nobody thought anything of it, and Evabeth, being the active five-year-old she is, bounced right back up and started playing again.
It was later that afternoon her family discovered something wasn’t right, when Evabeth told her older sister there was blood in her urine.
Her mother, knowing the fall had been minor, wasn’t entirely panicked at the time. Evabeth was alarmed by the blood but wasn’t in pain. However, when the bleeding persisted that night, Evabeth was taken to a St. Catharines hospital.
An ultrasound revealed Evabeth had kidney tumour and needed surgery right away. In an instant, Evabeth went from being a normal five-year-old who took ballet, gymnastics and attended kindergarten, to being diagnosed with stage-three kidney cancer. Her life flipped upside down.
Within 48-hours of being diagnosed, Evabeth had her kidney removed and by Dec. 1, she had started chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
“It was just like boom, boom, boom, boom. Everything was going to go very quickly,” said Stephanie.
The family believes the fall might have triggered the pre-existing condition to show itself.
Doctors said the cancer had started to move out of the kidney and into the artery of the kidney and had to remove four lymph nodes when they did the surgery, two of which were cancerous. Doctors don’t believe the cancer is anywhere else in her body now.
In a way, it’s a secret blessing that they found the tumour when they did, said Stephanie, whose aunt has a theory about what might have happened.
“She said it was Evabeth’s grandmother — who is passed away — who kicked her out of the tree, so that we would find this … And I love that story.”
Currently, because Evabeth’s immune system is low from the chemotherapy, she isn’t able to attend school and has had to quit her hobbies like gymnastics class. Instead, she now has to travel back and forth to Hamilton once a week for her to receive treatment at the McMaster Children’s Hospital.
Stephanie has taken a six-month leave from work and applied for employment insurance for parents of critically ill children.
She said her family is overwhelmed by the outpouring of support they’ve seen in the past month.
She said they’ve received quilts, teddy bears, gas cards, food cards and a general display of kindness from the community and relatives across the country.
“It’s little bits, but it’s help,” said Stephanie.
She also expressed a great deal of appreciation for the McMaster Children’s Hospital, the Hamilton Ronald McDonald House, the Pogo-Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario, and the Help a Child Smile organization, who she said have been at Evabeth’s side every step of the way, keeping her happy between all of the intimidating tests she has to take.
“Every time she had a procedure, the first was taking blood, and this was right in the beginning. The nurse right away brought in a Play-Doh set,” said Stephanie.
“And they’re just there for you when you go for chemo. There’s a guy there from Camp Trillium who is there to play with the kids … He’s just there to make everyone smile. On Monday he was giving out teddy bears to everyone.”
She said she’s been keeping a list of all the people who have helped support Evabeth along the way and plans to thank them through hospital honour programs.
The family has set up a GoFundMe page to help cover travel costs and hospital-related expenses while Stephanie isn’t working, with a modest goal of $8,000.
The GoFundMe had reached $6,315 in just one week.
Stephanie and her husband Wayne said the Fast family normally aren’t the type of people who would ask for anything, and had debates about whether to start the fund at all. Stephanie said they decided to after encouragement from family and friends.
Preferring to give back, the family has said they will be donating any money raised above $8,000 back to the hospitals that have helped Evabeth.
For the Fasts, life as they knew it changed in the matter of a week.
“It’s strange when you have a completely healthy child and everyone makes comments that she looks older than she is … We go to the naturopath. We try to eat healthy. It’s like, why is this happening?” said Stephanie.
Doctors told her Wilms tumour is just bad luck, and there’s nothing you can ‘do’ to trigger it.
For Stephanie, watching her daughter lose her hair and not be able to do the things she loves has been the hardest part.
As Evabeth loses her hair, Stephanie will be taking the journey with her, by letting Evabeth cut off some of her hair along the way. They will both shave their heads together when the time comes.
“Right away, as soon as I knew we were going through chemo, I just said that said would,” said Stephanie. “But after talking to a social worker she said a lot of parents just do it for themselves.”
Instead of making the decision, Stephanie asked Evabeth whether she wanted to cut her hair.
“She didn’t say anything, and so I said ‘well, if you don’t mind either way, I’ll just keep my hair’ … That’s when she gave me this devilish grin and said yes,” Stephanie said, with a chuckle.
The GoFundMe campaign to support Evabeth can be found at, gofundme.com/help-evabeth-conquer-cancer.