Stella Stenning's SickKids Story
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Published Apr 13, 2017 • Last updated Apr 13, 2017
Stella Strong supports family in need; raises awareness for OneMatch
By Chris Montanini
When Dub and Seri Stenning’s three-year-old daughter Stella was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a rare form of blood cancer, they began living every parent’s worst nightmare.
“I still cry every time someone asks me to tell our story,” Seri said from the family’s London home April 5. “The emotions that you go through when you first find out what’s happening (are hard to describe). I was already a helicopter mom that freaked out at the sign of the first cold, so I was absolutely a nutbar when we got that call.”
It was a stubborn cold that prompted Dub and Seri to bring Stella to their family doctor last December. At first, mono was the likely culprit, but blood tests confirmed a more serious problem.
Dub said it took some time before he was able to cope with the terrifying worst-case scenario running through his mind.
“The initial diagnoses, man, that’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “(But) Stella has handled this really, really well, which has made it easier for us to deal with. If she was feeling worse and feeling sick all the time, it would have been harder on us, but the fact she has been so strong has made us that much stronger.”
Stella’s chemotherapy treatments have been going well, her parents said. But the most difficult part of their story is still to come. The Stenning’s are preparing to leave for Toronto this Easter weekend where Stella is scheduled to receive a vital bone marrow transplant.
Seri, an estate manager at a local bankruptcy firm, said the family has been lucky to receive financial help and save on costs because of easy access to medical experts in London. But neither Seri or Dub, who has stepped away from running the Stenning family’s used car lot in east London, will be able to work while they’re with Stella in Toronto.
To help, a community of people accustomed to supporting their friends through painful, exhausting experiences is rallying around the family.
Stella’s uncle Dan Stenning is Dub’s brother. Two years ago he joined Forest City CrossFit (FCCF) with a friend, Josh Carroll, who was helping fellow Londoner Jamie Schmuck open the new gym on Dearness Drive.
On April 29, FCCF is hosting a fundraising event called Stella Strong.
For CrossFit athletes, it’s a chance to compete. For others, it’s a chance to enjoy local food and dance performances, try activities like archery and axe throwing, participate in a silent auction, and learn about OneMatch, a network of stem cell and bone marrow donors that could save Stella’s life.
Dan said the support so far from CrossFitters and community partners has been “astonishing.”
“I used to give my words of support to people who were battling (an illness) and, being on the outside, it felt hollow. I couldn’t see how it helped,” he said. “Now that I have someone battling and I have to be strong for her … I realize what those words mean. They make you stronger.”
Proceeds from Stella Strong are will support the Stennings during their time in Toronto, which they expect will be about four or five months, barring any complications.
Despite Stella’s illness, her parents said they feel fortunate in a couple different ways.
First for support from family and friends connected to a private Facebook page.
“It was hard at first answering text messages, and emails, and phone calls,” Dub said. “(But) We wanted to make sure everybody saw that Stella was as strong as she was. I didn’t want people thinking she was laying in bed sick and not feeling well and crying all the time.”
Second, for the medical community in London and OneMatch, an international network supported here by Canadian Blood Services.
Dub and Seri said Stella was lucky to find two compatible donors. They’ve met other sick children, particularly children with mixed racial backgrounds, who haven’t been as fortunate.
“The amount of kids that are on (the oncology) floor that need help and transfusions is unbelievable,” Seri said. “The flood of oncology kids just doesn’t make sense.”
Seri has registered for OneMatch as a way to give back. Dub said he didn’t meet the criteria to be added, but is encouraging supporters to consider becoming donors.
“It’s been really eye-opening for everybody,” he said. “The donation of the (bone) marrow — you have no idea what that means.”
Besides having Canadian Blood Services on hand for information at the fundraiser April 29, Carroll said he is also organizing a blood donation drive at 820 Wharncliffe Rd. on Good Friday April 14 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Community support inspires family to pay it forward
By Andrea Cox
Published Apr 11, 2018 •
It was December of 2016; Dub and Seri Stenning were basking in the joys of new parenthood when a cancer diagnosis derailed everything.
Their young daughter, Stella, who had just celebrated her third birthday, had come down with what they thought at the time was a persistent cold. But after several doctor’s visits, it was obvious that she was experiencing something far more severe: acute myeloid leukemia, a rare form of blood cancer.
“It was overwhelming,” says Dub.
The journey has been fraught with hardship and trepidation. Stella has had to endure numerous chemotherapy treatments and a bone marrow transplant, a procedure that required a five-month-long stay at Toronto’s Sick Kids hospital.
Today, almost one year after her bone marrow transplant, Stella is on the mend, a sweet, loving, inquisitive and outgoing little girl. She is looking forward to attending Kindergarten in the fall and is slowly but surely returning to a “normal” life, one that doesn’t involve having to wear face masks in public to protect her immune system, or to slurp a continual cocktail of medication.
Stella Stenning and her father, Dub. (Dan Stenning/Special to Postmedia News)
Meanwhile, Dub and Seri can’t say enough about Childcan, a local London organization that supports families and kids experiencing cancer from diagnosis through to treatment and beyond. “They were one of the first people to knock on our door after the diagnosis,” says Dub. “They really helped to take the edge off for us.”
Childcan provides a multitude of supports from compassionate emotional support to financial assistance and is mostly fuelled by the love and generosity of volunteers. Financial support takes many forms from hospital meal vouchers to parking passes and assistance with accommodations. It also offers bursaries to kids who have survived cancer and are attending post-secondary schools, and tutoring to youngsters who have missed classes due to their illness. With the goal of keeping kids closer to home for treatment, it supports cutting-edge research and new treatment trials here in London hospitals and research facilities.
Childcan’s executive director, Kathleen Barnard, says the organization gives out close to $300,000 each year, $50,000 alone just for parking.
“The journey through childhood cancer is typically longer than that through adult cancer, so often we are working with families through various points on that journey.”
But the journey is strenuous and can take a huge financial toll.
“I had to temporarily shut down my car lot and Seri took a leave of absence from work so that we could be with Stella in the hospital in Toronto,” recalls Dub.
The family was in Toronto for over five months, but family and friends rallied and organized a fundraiser. Dub’s brother Dan Stenning brainstormed and co-organized The Stella Strong CrossFit Competition and Family Fundraiser, which saw 600 people gather at Forest City CrossFit in support of Stella’s journey last April.
“We were so fortunate. We couldn’t have gone through what we did without that support,” says Dub.
And now the family wants to pay it forward. The second annual Stella Strong fundraiser is happening on April 28 with all funds going towards Childcan.
Even though Childcan works with the London Children’s Hospital as a tertiary referral system, it receives no government funding.
“There is never enough money,” says Barnard, who can’t say enough about local organizations and people who are willing to help out.
“We are so grateful,” she says. “It’s wonderful that people want to give back in this way.”
London sees over 80 new diagnosis of childhood cancer each year and Barnard says the organization works with around 250 families at any one time, which makes it tough when funding comes only from donations and grants.
Dan Stenning hopes to donate $10,000 raised from the event.
This year’s Stella Strong will also be honouring four courageous youngsters battling cancer: Celina Lucas, 16 months, Ellis Nichol, 2, Hayden Foulon, 6, and Gage Foster, 7. Expect a fun-filled family friendly event filled with bouncy castles, face painting, a barbecue and lemonade stand, a silent auction, dancers, gymnasts, and of course, a grueling Crossfit competition. The cost is free and activity participation is by donation.
To find out how you can help us help SickKids, help more little patients like Sophia, please visit: www.ReferForSickKids.com
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