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Wacee the warrior: A 7-year-old Chinook boy combats cancer


March 13, 2018

It all happened so fast.

Before Feb. 9, the Simenson’s 7-year-old “spitfire” of a son was boisterously enjoying life. Within two days, the Simensons had been flown to a Colorado hospital after finding out their son had a football-sized tumor in his chest.

On Feb. 9, Wacee Simenson was having “flu-like” symptoms, his mother, Tomi Simenson, said. So she took him to a clinic in their hometown of Chinook, which then led to a visit at Havre’s Northern Montana Hospital.

Tomi and Justin Simenson were wholly unprepared for what happened next. Wacee was “perfectly healthy” until then, Tomi said, never having had any symptoms that would hint at what they were about to hear.

“The E.R. doctor said they found a mass the size of a football,” Tomi said Wednesday.

Things moved fast after finding out their youngest son had t-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. Within hours, Wacee and family were flown from Havre to a hospital in Kalispell, where doctors were waiting to perform several tests.

After a few more hours, it was time to decide where Wacee would receive long-term care. The options for hospitals that specialized in cancer treatment were facilities in Seattle, Salt Lake City or Aurora, Colorado, Tomi said. Wacee has been in Aurora since.

Tomi said life’s been too hectic to dwell on the inner questions and struggles of what and why their little boy has been plagued with a potentially fatal disease.

“For a long time it felt like it was a dream. It all happened pretty quick, there was no time to process,” Tomi said. “A lot of fast decisions needed to be made.”

Tomi started a Facebook page, “Wacee’s Warriors,” which posts updates about Wacee’s status and all things related. She wrote about the day everything changed.

“Today my world was turned upside down, and our little family really needs some prayers. I took Wacee to a doctor (appointment) because he hasn’t been feeling good, and I just assumed we would be coming home with another antibiotic. Instead I was told they found a large mass in his chest, the size of a football, which is very large for a kid his size. So please tonight say a little prayer for my Wacee man.”

A lot has changed since, most importantly, the size of the tumor. Wacee, who is going on his 10th round of chemotherapy this week, Tomi said, has been winning.

“The mass is definitely shrinking,” she said. “Doctors have been pretty amazed how well he’s responding.”

The medical staff has been surprised and impressed by Wacee’s strength and resiliency, Tomi said. They were concerned that some of his organs might not be able to handle the chemo. But that hasn’t been the case.

“He didn’t show a hint of trouble after his first chemo,” Tomi said. “He’s a tough little boy.”

Doctors said the tumor grew fast. It took only about two weeks to get as big as it was when it was first found, she was told.

The upside of rapid-growing tumors is that they’re generally responsive to treatment, Tomi said.

On Feb. 20 Tomi and Wacee moved to Brent’s Place, a nearby community housing complex for people undergoing treatment. The aim of Brent’s Place is to provide a “home away from home” and help alleviate some concerns while going through treatment, their website says.

Despite the seriousness of his illness, Wacee has not lost his spunkiness or his penchant for fun, his mother said. He still laughs, he still entertains — he occasionally shoots nurses with Nerf guns — he’s the same.

They try to keep a normal routine, Tomi said. She takes Wacee to the zoo and out for ice cream in between the twice-weekly treatments he receives.

Back home — on the Hi-Line — Tomi said the support has been “amazing.”

During the District 9C Basketball championship game, the North Star Knights and the Chinook Sugarbeeters wore #TeamWacee T-shirts to show love and support for Wacee.

Tomi’s inablility to work, the traveling, among other expenses, has become costly. Justin continues to work back home, when he’s not visiting Wacee, Tomi said. Fortunately, the Hi-Line community has come through for the Simensons with the scale of generosity typical of the Hi-Line.

At the beginning of the month, Teddy and Sara Crowley donated the proceeds from the sale of a heifer to Wacee’s cause.

“It was so heartwarming to watch the generosity flow! Simply amazing of you!” Tomi says on Facebook.

Triple Dog Brewing Co. held a benefit Friday night, “Pints for Wacee.” The proceeds from beer pints will be donated to the Simensons.

A benefit is being held May 5 at the Blaine County Fairgrounds, which will include a taco and nacho feed, silent and live auction items, as well live music and #TEAMWACEE T-shirt’s and wristbands.

To help offset some expenses an account has been set up at the First Bank of Montana in Chinook for those that would like to donate. Checks can be made out to Justin, Tomi or Wacee.

People who’d like to contribute can also donate sky miles, Tomi said. A Gofundme account has also been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/this-little-cowboy-needs-our-help, where more than $44,000 has been raised in 30 days.

Today is a big day for Wacee. He is scheduled to undergo a litany of tests to reveal where the young cowboy is in his duel with cancer.

The chance that Wacee will recover is high, Tomi said she had been told, about 90 percent.

“Things are looking pretty good.”


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