By SARA ARTHURS
Six-month-old Atlas Shaffer is carrying a heavy weight — but the community is surrounding him to help him bear it.
Atlas is being treated for hepatoblastoma, a rare form of liver cancer, at University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Friends, working to raise the estimated $35,000 cost for the treatment to save his life, will hold a carnival from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Old Mill Stream Centre at the Hancock County Fairgrounds. They’re also collecting donations through Facebook.
The Fostoria baby’s mother, Lindsay Shaffer, said she was tickling Atlas’ belly when she noticed one side was “soft and squishy” but the other side felt hard. At first, Lindsay and her husband Elliott were told it might be a hernia. But it turned out to be a tumor, which is about 10 centimeters in diameter and extends from the bottom of Atlas’ rib to his hip.
Lindsay said doctors theorize that Atlas was actually born with the tumor. The biopsy showed for the most part it was just one mass, but there were some other small clusters of cells that were considered “really aggressive,” indicating a high risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body. The goal is for chemotherapy to knock out those cells and shrink the mass itself, as surgery can’t immediately be performed because the tumor is close to an artery.
If after several rounds of chemotherapy the tumor hasn’t shrunk enough, Atlas may need a liver transplant.
Lindsay, a copy editor for the Review Times, plans to start nursing school this fall. She said she’s learning in caring for her son, “my first patient.”
Family friends Tony Kuhlman and Colleen Miller are organizing Sunday’s carnival, which will include games, a silent auction, a 50/50 drawing, hot dog lunches and a photo booth. They will accept silent auction items through Friday. To donate, email firstname.lastname@example.org or Kuhlman at email@example.com.
If any funds remain once Atlas is cared for, the family plans to put the money toward helping others.
Lindsay said Atlas “still likes to play” and smile and laugh. Big sister Wren, 2, is coping OK but spending more time with her grandparents. Young children “don’t really know that ‘cancer’ is a scary word,” Lindsay said.
She said people have gone “above and beyond” in helping the family. Friends have sent meals and neighbors have helped.
“We couldn’t ask for better support,” she said.