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Teen with tumours has one shot at survival

Mom says his body won’t live through another round of treatment
Justin Plunkett gets a touch-up on his shaved head from lifelong friend Lucas Beljanksi

Justin Plunkett’s new motto of “failure is not an option” is more like an anthem for his short life.

The 15 year old has one chance at being cured of the multiple tumours floating throughout his spinal fluid, including around his brain. Surgery isn’t possible and a single cancerous cell left behind could bring back his disease.

Doctors aren’t taking any chances. So five days a week, Justin endures chemotherapy, plus what is called boost-level radiation – an extremely high dose used only occasionally on adult patients.

“His body will not be able to go through this again,” his mother, Colleen Plunkett, said.

Justin was diagnosed with primitive neuroectodermal tumours – a rare disease that usually affects children younger than 10. Around his brain, six tumours are floating, two are the size of a golf ball.

Every Sunday night, Justin and Colleen travel to Vancouver. Between Monday and Friday, they visit the B.C. Children’s Hospital for chemotherapy in the morning, then the Vancouver cancer centre in the afternoon for radiation.

The former involves having a line hooked up to the valve installed full-time under Justin’s right collarbone. For the radiation treatment, Justin is strapped down to a bed, with his head pinned face-down in a rigid mould and his hands tied town. He vomited after his first radiation session.

The treatments have done away with Justin’s appetite – he lost 13 pounds in the first five days since his diagnosis, on Christmas Eve. Then, his hair fell out in chunks; Justin would wake up in the morning to find handfuls of hair on his pillow.

The travel, treatments, food and medication add up to about $700 a week for the Plunkett family in out-of-pocket costs after Colleen’s medical coverage. It’s a strain on the family of five (Justin has a twin sister, Jocelyn, and a younger sister, Olivia).

Lifelong friend Luke Beljanski, also 15, says he doesn’t see any reason to treat Justin differently (except for playing more often and throwing fewer playful punches).

Justin said it’s easier to laugh and carry on as usual than let his disease bring him, his family and friends down.

“I just want to get through it,” Justin said, adding, “I worry about what will happen. A simple fever (now) can make me die.”

The family is confident in Justin’s survival, but the costs of his nine-month-long treatment are rising. They hope people will help by contribute to fundraisers around Greater Victoria.

“He has no doubt in his mind that he will make it through and I have no doubt in my mind,” Colleen said.

Get involved

• Saturday (Feb. 12), 11:30 a.m., bottle drive at Burnside elementary school, 3130 Jutland Rd.

• Wednesday (Feb. 16), 5-8 p.m., Team Justin Night at Outshine Salon and Spa, 880B Esquimalt Rd. Proceeds from services go to the Plunkett family. Call 250-383-5598 to book.

• Feb. 20, 6-10 p.m., burger, beer and comedy night at Heckler’s Bar and Grill, 123 Gorge Rd. East. Tickets $20, proceeds go to the Plunkett family.