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Good news, bad news

Skyler Slocum hasn't smiled much lately as he's gone through chemotherapy.

When Jessica Slocum brought her son to the doctor Jan. 4 she thought she was just checking on an ear infection. She ended up sleeping on a couch in the hospital for more than two weeks.

Skyler Slocum was just getting over an ear infection when his mother brought him to the doctor earlier this month, and she thought he might have another. He threw up on the way to the hospital, though, so when doctors found no problems with his ears, they checked his stomach. That's when they found the lump.

The lump wasn't new. Jessica had noticed it before and had brought it up to the family's pediatrician. But it had never been a concern. Now, it was. The doctor told Jessica to take 18-month-old Skyler to the emergency room immediately, so Jessica wrapped him in a coat and went.

After an ultrasound, doctors identified the lump as a tumor that had started in Skyler's liver and spread to his lungs.

In the days since there has been a biopsy and Skyler has started chemotherapy. Outside of one day of freedom spent at the Mall of America Skyler was confined to the hospital until Tuesday of this week.

"It was very tough," Jessica Slocum said. "It was a day our life kind of turned upside down."

The experience has been hard on Skyler. Before he had surgery he was running up and down the hallway and making new friends. He loves sports and balls and cars. But surgery and chemotherapy have sapped his energy and taken away his appetite.

"He's just kind of laying around, wants to cuddle, which isn't really his normal self," Jessica said. "He's usually really personable. He's been kind of depressed or in pain. We're not sure, because he can't really tell us."

About the only thing that gets Skyler's attention these days is art. He'll paint for 10 minutes or so at a time, but then he'll start crying and have to stop.

"It's pretty hard to see your baby go through something like this," Jessica said. "We're on the oncology floor, so we do see a lot of children who are going through the same thing. It's really sad and it's not fair."

The experience has thrown the family's life into disorder. Jessica's mother came to town to stay with Skyler's older brother, Chase. Jessica knows the experience has been hard on Chase, who is 5. He doesn't get to see his brother much, and he's getting used to the port installed in Skyler's chest for chemotherapy treatments. Doctors used a doll to explain why Skyler has the port and a little bit about what he's going through. Now Chase tucks the doll into his brothers bed every night.

Jessica has spent every night on a couch in Skyler's room. She's there if he wakes up or if he needs to throw up. She's there if he just needs to cuddle or if he wants a wagon ride through the hospital's hallways -- one of the other things that will calm him down.

Just how Skyler's recovery will go from here is unclear. If treatment can shrink the tumor out of his lungs doctors can do a liver transplant. Doctors will know more about his progress after the third chemotherapy treatment, but Jessica said there is about a 50 percent chance the treatment will be effective.

"It all depends on each kid," she said. "Each person is different, how they react to it."

In the meantime, friends of the family are doing what they can to help out with medical bills and other expenses. A benefit is planned from 4 to 7 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Farmington American Legion. There will be a spaghetti and pizza dinner, a raffle, a silent auction and cash prizes.

Jessica is an assistant teacher at Anna's Bananas daycare, and that business, in addition to giving Jessica time off so she can stay with her son, has planned a second fundraiser to take place in March.

"We have excellent friends and great family and they've all been there for us from the very beginning," Jessica said. "It surprised and really touched us to know there are so many people out there who really care.

"I don't know how we'll repay everybody for everything they've done."

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606