Tormoehlen family battling cancer for second time


Having a child diagnosed with cancer is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Having two children diagnosed with cancer one after the other seems unimaginable, but that’s the reality Shane and Katie Tormoehlen of Vallonia are living day to day.

On Feb. 6, just eight days after their nearly 2-year-old daughter, Kinley, finished up chemotherapy treatment for a rare kidney cancer, the Tormoehlens found themselves back at the doctor.

But this time, it wasn’t Kinley who was sick. It was their 4-year-old son, Bryce.

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“We took Bryce to our pediatrician due to swollen lymph nodes, looking pale and lack of energy,” Katie said.

The pediatrician ordered some blood work, and the results were something the young couple never thought they would hear and never wanted to hear again — cancer.

Bryce was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“Hearing the news when Bryce was diagnosed was the exact same feeling emotionally we had when Kinley was diagnosed,” Katie said. “It was a huge shock and disbelief, and still sometimes, it’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that both our kids were diagnosed with cancer.”

The two types of cancer are completely unrelated, she said.

Whereas Kinley’s cancer was a solid tumor she had removed, followed by chemo and radiation to kill the rest of the cancerous cells, Bryce’s is in his blood, making it more difficult to treat.

He is facing bone marrow biopsies and roughly three and a half years of chemo and lumbar punctures, a lot for anyone to go through, but especially for a child and his family.

Another aspect of Bryce’s diagnosis that was different was having to explain it to him because he was old enough to understand he was sick.

“How do you tell your child they have cancer?” Katie asked. “With Kinley, she was too little to understand, but Bryce watched his sister struggle and has seen firsthand the effects of chemo.”

They decided to let the doctors and child life specialist at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis explain cancer to Bryce, or in terms he could comprehend, “spots like sissy had.”

“He took it really hard, and as his parents, we cried and held his hand while they explained it to him,” Katie said. “However, I do believe it has helped tremendously with him seeing his sister go through similar treatments, and he knew what to expect.”

In a sense, Kinley is a role model for Bryce, and he wants to be brave like her, Katie said.

“Kinley never cried when getting her port accessed, and Bryce continues to say he is brave like sissy during every poke he has to have,” she said.

Having to be away from Kinley while they were at the hospital with Bryce was a big adjustment for the Tormoehlens. Because of the hospital’s flu restrictions, Kinley was not allowed to see Bryce during the two weeks he was there when he was first diagnosed.

“We had never left her even just for one night before, and it was hard being away,” Katie said. “Shane and I would switch back and forth going home to see her, but it was a difficult adjustment for all of us.”

Katie said everyone was excited about Kinley’s progress and recovery and was blindsided by Bryce’s illness. Kinley recently had her three-month post-treatment scans and remains in remission.

“She is doing great and is starting to grow her hair back and is acting more like a healthy child more and more every day,” Katie said. “We were so excited to start living our lives to the fullest and do the things we missed out on when Kinley was diagnosed, but when Bryce was diagnosed, our thoughts went to beating this twice.”

Although they are grateful for Kinely’s remission, there is always the fear of the cancer returning.

Kinley has a higher chance of her cancer coming back due to the genetic makeup of the tumor and a higher chance of getting other types of cancer because of the chemo she had.

Bryce’s outlook remains positive, but he also faces the chance of getting a different type of cancer because of the chemo treatment.

“We remain optimistic and try not to dwell on the what ifs,” Katie said.

The Tormoehlens continue to rely on their faith along with prayers and support from friends, family and the community to get through the obstacles they face.

Without the love and concern shown by people, even complete strangers, their journey would be nearly impossible, Katie said.

“We are lucky to be in such a small, loving community, and knowing we have our family, faith, friends and community behind us helps tremendously to cope,” she said.

The kids love getting letters in the mail, visits from local law enforcement and hearing words of encouragement, she said.

There also have been several fundraisers organized by individuals and groups to help the Tormoehlens with hospital bills and the costs of traveling back and forth to Riley.

Local dentist Dr. Tamara Hiester is sponsoring the Tormoehlen Strong 5K Walk/Run on Saturday in Brownstown. Registration is $30 and begins at 8:30 a.m. at Heritage Park with participants stepping off at 9 a.m. All proceeds from the event will go to the Tormoehlen family.

“There is absolutely no way we could keep up financially without them,” Katie said of the fundraisers. “As the bills continue coming in, it gets extremely overwhelming at times, and with the benefits scheduled, it helps give some peace of mind knowing there is hope we can keep up with them.”

But there is no cost that will ever be too great to pay.

“You cannot put a price tag on your child’s health, and there is nothing we could do differently,” Katie said.

Although it’s tough to do and some days are better than others, giving up is not an option.

“We stay strong because we have to for our kids,” she said. “We don’t understand why they have to fight these battles and have to undergo the treatments, and they don’t know why they feel the way they do, but as a family, we are stronger than ever before.

“We lean on each other to make it through,” she said. “We pray together and remain Tormoehlen Strong.”

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What: Tormoehlen Strong 5K Walk/Run

When: Saturday; registration is at 8:30 a.m., and the event begins at 9 a.m.

Where: Begins at Heritage Park, 121 E. Walnut St., Brownstown

Cost: $30; all proceeds go to the Tormoehlen family

Information or to donate: Call 812-524-2424 or visit the Tormoehlen Strong 5K Walk/Run event page on Facebook


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