Shock permeated Kamloops resident Bonnie Lepine Antoine when she learned infant son Riel had a brain tumour.
“It’s like life just stopped,” she told KTW. “You’re shaking, you’re panicking, you can’t come to grips.
The nine-month-old had surgery in July to remove most of the golf ball-sized mass, but a portion in his brain stem could not be excised, meaning Riel now requires months of chemotherapy.
“Plan A is chemo and we’re hoping that it [will] kill the cancer cells in that tumour that’s still in the stem of the brain,” Lepine Antoine said. “That’s the most dangerous part, is having a tumour in the stem.”
Having spent six weeks at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver with husband Frank Antoine while their son fights for his life, the mother of three is appealing for financial support via a GoFundMe campaign.
The parents will be tied to the hospital’s oncology ward as Riel’s treatment will last until at least the end of January.
Lepine Antoine works as a teacher at École Collines-d’or, the city’s francophone school, but her maternity leave is ending and she will need to take an unpaid leave in order to stay with her son. Her husband runs Moccasin Trails — a tour company that gives people authentic Indigenous experiences.
“His biggest season is now and he hasn’t been able to work,” she said, noting she would prefer that they both stay with their son as Riel needs constant supervision.
“Nurses don’t come in and hold your baby. We’ve got a sick baby that we have to hold … 24/7, so my husband does night shift and then we switch every three hours during the day,” Lepine Antoine said. “We’re bound to this baby who needs us right now.”
Riel’s chemotherapy began last weekend.
“It’s so hard. I have to breastfeed this kid that’s kind of toxic,” she said. “We have to wear gloves to change him.”
If they can’t raise enough money to help them stay with Riel, one of the parents will need to return to Kamloops to work.
“Then it becomes really stressful because then it’s one person dealing with all this,” Lepine Antoine said.
“We’re here until the end of January, that’s for sure, and our son is in a bedroom 24 hours a day. He might be able to get out on the ward to go for walks down the hall.”
Lepine Antoine described the weeks in hospital as fear-filled.
She said her son sustained a bone infection during surgery and he had to go under the knife again to have a piece of skull removed.
Riel was also diagnosed with an inguinal hernia before he arrived to BC Children’s Hospital, but has since had an operation to fix that issue as well.
Lepine Antoine said it’s been difficult to watch her son endure multiple surgeries, sedations and high doses of antibiotics inserted via tubes into his body.
“It’s like a rollercoaster. One day is good and then more news, and then one day’s good and then more news,” she said, noting some of the hardest days were the five weeks during which they waited for test results that revealed the tumour was malignant.
“You become delusional,” Lepine Antoine said. “There’s times where I would go away and puke because I’m so sick to my stomach.”
The family welcomed their third child last November and Lepine Antoine recalls newborn Riel as a happy baby. But he would cry a lot — sometimes for hours — which struck his mother as unusual, even for a baby.
When he was about six months old, Lepine Antoine noticed Riel had torticollis — a condition in which the head leans to one side because of contracted neck muscles.
When she sought medical advice in Kamloops, Riel’s crying was chalked up to colic and physiotherapy was recommended to treat the torticollis, she said.
It wasn’t until the family of five took a trip to Victoria, where Lepine Antoine has family, that they discovered Riel had a brain tumour. Seeking additional medical advice at a hospital in Victoria, Riel was given an ultrasound on his head and neck, revealing a tumour in the back of his skull.
“It was like life just stopped,” Lepine Antoine said. “I couldn’t stop crying until I got to BC Children’s.”
The parents left their other two children — son Sequoia, 7, and daughter Maya, 4 — with grandparents in Victoria and Riel was in surgery within three days.
Since having the tumour removed, the baby is calmer, but he still has torticollis — something Lepine Antoine said doctors haven’t been able to explain as they thought removing the tumour would correct that condition.
She advised parents to keep searching for answers in the medical field if something is wrong with their child.
“Doctors only know so much and there’s a lot of rare things that they don’t see,” she said.
The Antoines raised $7,000 from a previous GoFundMe page to get them through the summer, but are now faced with a much longer time frame with no revenue.
With mortgage payments due and needing to make arrangements to have their other two children cared for at home in Kamloops when school starts, the parents hope to raise $50,000 to help cover expenses.
Lepine Antoine said it’s difficult to ask for money, but noted the family appreciates even the smallest of donations.
If you wish to help, the GoFundMe donation page can be found online at gofundme.com/bonnie-lepine-antoine-frank-antoine-and-baby.