It started with a bump on 14-year-old Tanner Dell’s knee — the sort of thing any active boy might experience.
But when the swelling began to grow, his parents, Kirt and Connie Dell, took him to their doctor, who called it a tumor, performed surgery to remove it and sent it for testing.
“Based on the fact Tanner didn’t have any pain or limited mobility, we were optimistic that the tumor was benign,” his father said. Tanner and his friends nicknamed the tumor “Tommy.” That was Oct. 14.
On Oct. 21, the family received the news that the tumor was cancer and they were being referred to Children’s Hospital in Iowa City for treatment.
“How do you tell your 14-year-old son who seems perfectly healthy that he has cancer?” Connie recalled. “Our answer — be truthful and optimistic. We knew the only way to beat this was for Tanner to fight hard, remain positive and believe that he will win.”
The week of Oct. 25 was filled with appointments in Iowa City — CT Scan, MRI, bone scan, PET scan, X-rays—“the whole gambit.”
On Oct. 28 Tanner underwent surgery to install a port for chemo treatments and to reopen the area where the tumor had been to get a biopsy on surrounding tissue.
All those tests came back clear, and back at school, Tanner was willing to show his battle scars to his friends.
On Nov. 2, Tanner began his chemo treatments.
“It was an overwhelming experience for all of us,” Connie remembers. “Kirt and I spent hours being trained by one of the oncology nurses on how to take care of Tanner at home. We also learned how to administer shots, which would have to be done on a daily basis between treatments.
“That first round lasted three days. When we came home on Saturday, it felt like we were bringing home a newborn. Our family room soon turned into a mini pharmacy and a library with stacks of information.
“Thankfully, we had lots of support from family and friends.”
After the first few days at home, Tanner regained enough strength to make it to school for a few hours on a couple of days. Tanner was surprised at school one day by the entire student body wearing yellow as a sign of support.
The following weekend Tanner’s AAU basketball team was playing at Cal-Wheat. The team’s warm-up shirts were newly adorned with a slogan to support Tanner: “Never give up – Stand Up To Cancer For Tanner.” Tanner even played a few minutes of basketball that day. “ We didn’t care who won that day. Tanner was out on the floor and that meant the world to us,” Connie said.
LOSING HIS HAIR
By the beginning of the next week, Tanner began to lose his hair.
He already knew that some of the boys would get buzz cuts with him when the time came, so on the spur of the moment, Tanner and friends headed to Lisa Sullivan’s shop in Goose Lake, where nine boys and three dads got buzz cuts.
What could have been a scary experience was turned into lots of laughs and great pictures and a truly fun event, thanks to Tanner’s friends.
Round two of chemo started on Nov. 16 and was a longer course — scheduled for five or six days.
As news of Tanner’s condition spread, the family was showered with words and offers of support. Friends took orders for T-shirts to show support. More than 500 T-shirts were sold.
The Northeast middle school student council and the AAU girls’ team both sold bracelets with messages to support Tanner. 4-H groups, school clubs and colleagues at work joined in supporting Tanner with cards and gifts.
“We are truly blessed to live in a community that is so supportive of our family and other families in need,” Connie said.
Tanner’s treatment schedule is for him to have 14 chemo treatments. Between treatments, Tanner is able to go to school when he feels strong enough and when he is not at risk for infection. The school administration and Tanner’s teachers have been able to modify Tanner’s assignments so that he can keep up with his classmates. For Tanner, being in school and around his friends is one of the best ways to win this fight.
The treatments are scheduled for every other Wednesday. It seems as if Tanner just gets enough strength back to feel ‘almost’ normal and then it’s time to go right back in the hospital, the family says.
The hospital stays range from three to five days each time. While at the hospital, he is always connected to an I.V. through his port and that’s how he gets his chemo and other medicine. Tanner and his brother, Kyle, named the I.V. pole “IVAN.” Ivan goes everywhere with Tanner at the hospital….the cafeteria, the library, the gym, the parking ramps and many walks down the hallways.
Usually the first day at the hospital Tanner feels OK. Then the effects of the chemo drugs start to hit him. The anti-nausea medicine helps keep him from feeling too sick.
He spends a lot of time sleeping, playing on his IPad, watching TV and playing tricks on the nurses.
Tanner’s basketball team and other friends have made numerous trips to Iowa City to hang out with Tanner for the day or for a few hours.
“The seemingly endless hospital stays are much easier to endure when Tanner has his friends around. With his brother, friends and cousins he has fun playing video games, dropping parachute “men” from the balconies, playing board games, riding on his I.V. Pole in the parking ramp and watching movies.”
Tanner recently was in Iowa City for the ninth round of his chemo treatments and has four more treatments to go. If everything stays on schedule, Tanner will finish his last round of chemo in the beginning of May, just in time to celebrate his 15th birthday.
His family says Tanner has kept an amazing attitude throughout his treatments. He has not let cancer run his life. He goes to school when he can, hangs out with friends when he has the strength for it and, from the sidelines, continues to be part of his basketball team.
He says that the support that he gets everyday from his friends, from the school and the community have helped him keep his winning attitude.
Tanner is already making plans for the summer, when he can rebuild his strength, play golf, be on the baseball team, go on vacation and just hang out with friends and family.