Five-year-old Isaac Evans is like most children his age: curious, persistent and has no problem negotiating with his mother, Terra Evans, what his afternoon snack will be.
But shortly before Christmas this last year, Isaac became ill, and after a battery of tests, a cancer diagnosis came back on Jan. 6.
Terra thought her son was just having growing pains — until the pain slowed him down completely.
“The last part of the week before Christmas, he kept saying his legs were hurting,” she said. “He kept saying, ‘Mom, it feels like my bones are stretching,’ and I kept saying, well they are, you’re growing.”
The pain wasn’t enough to stop him from playing or doing anything like that, but then Christmas Eve it was more, and Isaac stopped wanting to run around or be on his feet as much.
“He just wanted to lay around on the couch, so we thought that was a little weird and we would take him in after Christmas,” Terra said. “After Christmas, it was getting really bad, so we kept dosing him with ibuprofen to keep it from hurting him.”
Then the pain moved from his legs to his hips and his pelvis, and then continued to move to his back and his neck. On Dec. 30, Terra and husband Corey took Isaac in to the doctor, where doctors ran a blood test and said Isaac most likely had a virus that had gotten into his muscles. His inflammation levels were high, but nothing that signaled to Isaac’s doctors and parents that anything serious was going on.
“It was nothing that screamed cancer,” Terra said. “They said we’ll keep an eye on it, and we will do it again in a week.”
On Jan. 2, Isaac woke up and couldn’t move his head or neck from the pain, and had been running a low-grade fever. Corey and Terra took their son to the doctor yet again, and followed up with his regular pediatrician. Doctors were concerned, and said Isaac should have a bone marrow biopsy. On Jan. 6, Isaac went in for his bone marrow biopsy, and the doctor came out an hour after the procedure started and told the Evans what every parent fears: their child has leukemia.
“They said he has A.L.L., Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and we knew before that, because they had to get a bigger needle for the procedure because his marrow was like peanut butter,” Terra said. “At that point, we knew.”
Doctors came in and told Terra and Corey it was more than 90 percent curable and not to worry, and that they would admit him and start treatment right away.
“When you hear that number, 90 percent sounds really high when you’re just talking about it, but that number is not nearly high enough,” Terra said.
Several hours later, doctors received confirmation from the lab that it wasn’t what they thought.
“They said, it’s not leukemia, it’s neuroblastoma, and it’s high risk neuroblastoma,” Evans said. “It’s spread to all of his bone marrow so it puts him in stage 4, high risk neuroblastoma. It has a 40 to 60 percent survival rate. All of the sudden that 90 percent seems really good. We miss that 90 percent. They admitted him that day, and they transported him to Seattle Children’s.”
Since the diagnosis, Isaac has completed three rounds of chemo. The first two rounds Isaac did fairly well, but the third round made him really sick after the treatment.
“Chemo comes in 21-day cycles,” Evans said. “He’s admitted for five days, and then he’s out for the rest of the 21-day period. Typically, he’ll spike a fever and go in (to the Emergency Room) at least once.”
Isaac has always been an active kid, but while he’s undergoing chemo, he spends a lot of his time watching TV, laying on the couch and playing on his iPad.
“He just doesn’t feel good,” his mother said. “He’s just tired.”
Since his diagnosis, Isaac hasn’t been able to attend preschool.
“He loves and misses his school,” Terra said. “He’s gotten to Skype with them, they’ve been sending letters, they made him a pillow case and they all signed it. They’ve been doing sweet things. It’s hard to just keep in touch ... there’s so much else going on. When he’s not impatient in the hospital, he still has clinic.”
Corey, a teacher at Emerald Ridge High School, and Terra, city prosecutor for the City of Puyallup, have had to take a significant time off of work to help care for their son.
“We’re both incredibly lucky in that we have both worked where we work for quite a while,” Terra said.
For the most part, the Evans are living near Children’s, only spending a couple nights at their home in Tacoma during the last few weeks.
Even with both Terra and Corey working at their places of employment for quite some time, the expenses of Isaac’s cancer treatments are adding up. In an effort to help, the Puyallup Police Department and the Ferruci Junior High Community Service Club have selected the Evans family as this year’s beneficiary of the March 25 Cops vs. Teachers charity basketball game.
The event pits police officers from Puyallup and other surrounding agencies and departments up against the teachers for a basketball game, with proceeds going toward a family or individual in need. The annual event began back in 2010.
“It began in 2010, after the four Lakewood officers were killed (by Maurice Clemmons),” said Deputy Police Chief Dave McDonald. “It was a big draw that year.”
Much like in 2010, this year’s event hits home for the Puyallup police department.
“With Terra being our prosecuting attorney,” McDonald said, “all of our officers have worked closely with her.”
The donation-only event is estimated to draw in well over 500 people.
“It has grown to more than a Puyallup thing,” said Ferucci teacher Baron Coleman. “Lakewood has been involved since the get-go. We have 25 officers from all over Pierce County that come to play. We have teachers from all over the district, at all different levels. We have administrators playing, we have a Puyallup school board member. The whole community has embraced it.”
At the end of each quarter of the game, a raffle for gift baskets is conducted as well.
“We have over 30 baskets this year from different vendors and people in the community,” Coleman said. “Some of these baskets are worth $200 to $300.”
All of the proceeds from the event will go toward Isaac’s fight against cancer.
“It’s amazing thing for (Isaac), and he is so excited for it. It’s going to be wonderful for us,” Terra said. “We will be surrounded by all the people we care about and that care about him, but more than anything is that it is this thing that’s out there in the community. People who have no idea who we are know about it, childhood cancers are something that is real, and not in the shadows. It can happen to anyone.”
The Cops vs. Teachers event begins when the doors open at 6 p.m., with tipoff at 6:30 March 25 at Ferruci Junior High, 3213 Wildwood Park Drive in Puyallup.