Rainy days keep coming at Kyle and Sarah Walton, long after overwhelming their ability to save for them.
Their 2 1/2-year-old daughter Ellie, is scheduled for her 15th surgery Aug. 18.
“Thirteen brain surgeries, seven rounds of chemotherapy — this is the what she’s dealt with all her life,” Sarah said of her second daughter. “She had meningitis, needed surgery on a double hernia.”
“Ellie has physical, occupational and speech therapy.”
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Not long ago, the Walton family — Kyle, Sarah, Ellie and 6-year-old Ava — were on the verge of losing their Spanaway home.
“We’d fallen three months behind in payments, and there was no way we were going to catch up,” Sarah said. “I kept waiting for the foreclosure sign.”
I last checked in with the Waltons in September when Ellie was having difficulty recovering from her fifth brain surgery. I first met Ellie in August 2013 after her second brain tumor was removed.
Throughout Ellie’s journey, the Waltons have been touched by the outpouring of love and support from family and friends, who have held spaghetti dinners, garage sales, 5K runs and car washes to help out.
And from hundreds of people and groups they’d never met.
Last month, through Facebook, Sarah learned about Mission4Maureen, a nonprofit group named for Maureen, a 34-year-old woman who died in 2005, the victim of a brain tumor.
The group, whose entire program is to help patients and the families of brain tumor patients, caught the Waltons up on mortgage payments.
Not all that long ago, needing that kind of help would have seemed embarrassing to Kyle and Sarah. Kyle, 27, has worked most of his adult life at a Tacoma-area lumber mill. Sarah, 26, had a photography business she ran from home.
Then, when she was 4 months old, Ellie got her first diagnosis: a teratoid rhabdoid tumor, so rare only three children in a million have them.
Since then, Sarah has put her business on hold and learned to become a full-time caregiver. Kyle used every vacation day — and all his sick time — to stay at the hospital when Ellie was a patient there.
“This is where life has led us,” Sarah said. “You can’t turn away from it. It makes you appreciate watching Ellie grow up. We were told when she was 4 months old she might not survive the first surgery.”
Ava adores her younger sister and is the only family member who can get Ellie to take her medications. The two play together the way any two sisters might.
A year ago, a nightmare awakened Ava. In it, Ellie had died.
Still, there are times Ava gets less attention that either of her parents would love to give her. Ellie is a full-time job, and schedules are arranged around her doctors visits and hospital stays.
“We try to have an ‘Ava Night,’ at least once a month,” Sarah said. “She’s used to being No. 1, and this has been hard on her. Once this year, she told us, ‘I wish I could go back to before Ellie was born.’”
The Waltons have learned to deal with statements that defy a response.
“Ellie has 50 percent loss of hearing in one ear because of the chemo, and neuropathy that leaves her in near constant leg and foot pain,” Sarah said. “She’ll look at me and say, ‘Mommy, help me.’
“All I can do is hold her, tell her it will be OK — and hope that it will be.”
Early on, Ellie had developmental issues. The tumor took up a third of the area of her brain. What has followed, surgery after surgery, is a pattern.
Ellie will have an operation, begin to walk and talk and learn. Then, as the tumor grows back, she will lose some of those abilities.
“You get numb,” Sarah said. “All I want to do is have her get better, get her through this and give her a childhood.”
Both Waltons know that might not be the outcome. And the medical bills keep coming.
“I don’t even look at bills, anymore. I put them in a box under the bed,” Sarah said. “I can’t pay them, why open them? It’s bad, I know, but it’s how I deal with it.”
Fidelity National Title, where Sarah’s mother works, is holding a car wash Sunday at 5006 Center St. in Tacoma. There’s no charge, and all donations will go directly to the Walton family.
“The 7-Eleven next door is giving a free Slurpee to anyone who gets a car wash,” Sarah said. “I’ll be there, washing cars. When people do things like this for us, it’s only right we put in time and effort, too.”
Want to help?
For more information on Ellie and her story, or to make a donation, go to prayersforellie.com.