Tanner’s Story: Never Alone

Alli Shoemaker Stories

Wearing a hospital gown, Tanner picked “the cherry smell” to go with the anesthesia for his port removal surgery — a procedure his family hoped would be the last step in his osteosarcoma treatment. After almost a year of enduring some of the nastiest chemotherapies and a debilitating limb salvage surgery, 10-year-old Tanner has returned to the fourth grade and is back to hunting and being silly.

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As Super Bowl Sunday rolled around this February, his dad, Shane, remembered the day that changed their lives forever: “On this night last year, we found the lump on Tanner’s arm. We were all snuggled on the couch watching TV, nothing special, when God intervened. Holly noticed a small lump on Tan’s forearm. It didn’t hurt, but it bothered us. We decided that Tanner and I would skip the Super Bowl … and instead go … [to the] ER for an X-ray.”

In the early spring of 2016, Tanner had surgery to remove the mass. Ten days later, doctors told the family that the mass was osteosarcoma — a deadly bone cancer that affects hundreds of kids each year.

“As we drove home … we cried, thinking, ‘What’s next?’” said Shane. Doctors called to schedule a port installation surgery to implant a mechanism in Tanner’s chest to deliver chemotherapy, and his battle against osteosarcoma began. “Everything I learned about cancer [happened] in the next two days,” said Tanner.

After a few months of nauseating chemotherapy rounds, a tumor board at the pathology department reviewed Tanner’s case, and the news worsened. Doctors didn’t think they’d removed all the cancer, which meant it was still in his body. They decided the next course of action would be to perform an innovative limb salvage surgery to remove the cancer completely. This 12-hour surgery replaced the diseased arm bone with a reconstructed, fully functional limb using Tanner’s leg bone.

“Seeing him lying on the stretcher was hard. He just looked so different to me,” said Holly. “Being that his surgery was so long, he had a blown up, swollen look. That was a little frightening. He had little tubes coming out of him and different machines attached.”

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Shane said nothing prepared them for coming home from the hospital after Tanner’s surgery. With his limited mobility, their family had to make some adjustments. “We couldn’t get him in the shower, and he had to sleep on a blow-up mattress in the living room. It was tough watching him be in a wheelchair,” said Shane.

Tanner finished five more cycles of chemotherapy and kept up with schoolwork while he healed from the highly invasive surgery.

Tanner said everything about the journey was hard, but getting mouth sores as a side effect from the treatment was especially bad, making it difficult to eat and drink.

However, despite enduring all the difficulties of cancer treatment, Tanner and his parents hold onto a few special memories. For Tanner, one of these is going fishing on Father’s Day when he felt well enough — though he had to go to the ER a few hours later with a fever.

Shane remembers a funny moment: “We went for a follow-up appointment with a very serious doctor who was kind of a big guy. The doctor looked at Tanner’s X-ray and said that it looked great. Then Tanner said, ‘Let’s just get serious, can I just shoot my gun or not?’” A lover of hunting and fishing, Tanner recently got back into one of his favorite hobbies: bow hunting.

One of Holly’s most powerful memories is walking arm in arm with Tanner down the aisle at her sister’s wedding a few days after the doctors had diagnosed him. She remembers seeing the audience’s faces and tearing up. “It was hard, and it was really emotional. We made the most out of the day,” said Holly. Her sister fastened childhood cancer awareness ribbons on the bridesmaids’ bouquets.

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Now out of treatment, Tanner is back at school and going through physical therapy to regain his strength. Every three months, he’ll return to the hospital for scans to make sure the cancer hasn’t returned. So far, the scans have shown no evidence of disease. “We feel good about where we are, but the war is not over,” said Shane. “We will continue to fight until no child loses their battle with cancer. We will continue to battle for more funding and better research, raise awareness, and spread love so that no family fights alone and cancer is gone forever.”

Throughout Tanner’s journey, his family’s motto has been “Never Alone,” and we’re grateful to supporters like you who help make that motto a reality for kids like him.

Tanner helped fundraise for Children's Cancer Research Fund's Great Cycle Challenge USA

Tanner and his family helped fundraise for Children’s Cancer Research Fund’s Great Cycle Challenge USA