Just back home from a transfusion and other treatments for brain cancer, 12-year old Alex Shepherd this evening was greeted by Yule carols, a hug from his mom and a professional holiday lighting of his Ashland home, donated by Brotherhood Painting.
The merry lights and swags were the brainchild of family friend Kimberly Bruhn of Ashland. Alex’s MRI Friday showed tumors had advanced aggressively. His parents, Dan and Aushna Shepherd, both registered nurses, are seeking to maximize the good times as the disease moves to its climax.
“It’s not what we wanted to hear,” Dan said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed with this whole set of changes. He’s been off chemo and his platelets are low. If his bone marrow function improves, he might qualify for a clinical trial next week in Southern California. The most we can hope for is to slow the progression of the disease and buy him some quality time. It’s a bad hand to be dealt.”
Bruhn has been a steadfast ally of the family since Alex's diagnosis on May 9, 2013. She lost her young son Michael to cancer last year and has organized the Team Alex Facebook page, keeping supporters and family in touch and providing pictures, news and a link to fundraising efforts at www.youcaring.com.
It has raised $3,690 on a goal of $15,000.
Of the gratis Yule lighting and countless other gifts and labor from the community, Aushna says, “I can’t believe how much people donate and give time for us. It’s so beautiful and kind.”
“Any time something little can be done with such a big payoff, for someone who’s suffered so much, I mean, I have a blessed life and I gladly give this day of it," said Clay Bustin, owner of Brotherhood Painting.
Alex's battle with anaplastic astrocytoma, an aggressive and terminal brain cancer, led to a spot on the "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," where the family received a new car (for frequent trips to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland) and a trip to Hawaii. Still, expenses have been difficult, especially because of time off work to care for Alex.
Hanging yule swag, Ona Williams said she went through this with Bruhn, her close friend, and is glad to lend support now.
“Anything with kids tugs at my heart,” Williams said. “You just see this too much.”
“It has changed everything,” says Aushna. “You don’t so much plan for the future. You plan for the next day. It can all change in an hour and you’re going to the hospital.”
A student at Ashland Middle School and an avid bicyclist with his dad before the disease, Alex has been noted for his love of his five cats, his dancing around the hospital room and his relentless cheer, says his mom.
“But he’s getting a little more scared now, as he gets more symptomatic," Aushna says. "He always tells me to look on the bright side, dancing and telling me jokes. I wish I had a piece of his attitude. He always talks about what he’s going to do when he’s older, like be a doctor. He doesn’t want to talk about how serious it is. He’s protecting himself.”
In a post on the Team Alex Facebook, Aushna notes, “Beyond devastating, numb. ... What a difference 18 months make; 18 terrible, unfair, heartbreaking, yet beautiful months. ... He's been through a lifetime of pain and still believes that ‘life is good.’ His faith is strong as mine dwindles. He is so brave when I feel like I can't breathe. What a gift he is that I feel unworthy to have.”
Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at firstname.lastname@example.org.