Ella Donovan with mom Tina outside Fuller Lake Arena. Tina talks about the status of Ella’s cancer fight since September 2019. See Pages 5 and 7.

Ella Donovan with mom Tina outside Fuller Lake Arena. Tina talks about the status of Ella’s cancer fight since September 2019. See Pages 5 and 7.

Young Ladysmith skater watches and waits in battle against cancer

Ella Donovan’s tumour began a tumultuous time, but community support eased the burden

Outward appearances don’t suggest anything out of the ordinary with Ella Donovan.

She’s just like any other active eight-year-old, enjoying her time at Ladysmith Primary School where she’s in Grade 3 and after-school care at the Leaps & Bounds daycare as well as being a member of the Fuller Lake Skating Club.

Her hair used to be straight, but grew back in curly, and with it being red, she’s a standout on the ice and looks like she could star in a production of Annie on stage.

While Donovan’s doing very well, it’s taken a while to get to this point. She will remain under close monitoring for the next several years and into her adult life after her cancer diagnosis in September of 2019.

RELATED: 799 days: ‘Super’ Weston defeats cancer

RELATED: Victoria’s chalk fairy brings smiles to kids with cancer

“I had felt a lump on her abdomen,” said mom Tina Donovan of how the tumultuous life-changing experience started. “We’d been away on a family vacation out east and I noticed a lump on her belly and scheduled an appointment for her when we got home.”

An ultrasound was booked by the Donovans’ family doctor and they were advised to go to the office after the results were known.

“You don’t want those calls and our whole life changed that day. It’s a parent’s worse nightmare,” conceded Tina.

Within two days, they were at BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver and met with a diagnosis of neuroblastoma, the third most common type of cancer in children. It was initially thought the tumor was mostly benign and no chemotherapy would be needed, but that didn’t turn out to be the case.

A 10-hour surgery took place that November. The surgical team managed to remove about 40 per cent of it. It was a difficult surgery and the surgeon’s word for the tumour was “sticky” and it impacted some of her major blood vessels.

Worse, it was found to not be benign but now classified as ganglioneuroblastoma nodule type, which is composed of a mixture of cell types and has immediate malignant potential.

“It was high risk,” said Tina. “She was put in the high risk category.”

Chemotherapy and possible radiation became the treatment plan with another surgery planned after that. A central line was placed and the first round began in December. She then went on to have four rounds in total from December to March spaced approximately 21 days apart. Her stem cells were also harvested in case she needed them down the road.

“Kids are so resilient and strong,” Tina marvelled. “It was hard to tell if the chemo was successful. It wasn’t growing and hadn’t spread, but was it shrinking it in leaps and bounds? No.”

All the treatments, tests and appointments required the Donovans to be in Vancouver from November to March. They came home about 5-7 days every month.

Things were just getting into full COVID mode by March when Ella had her surgery scheduled.

“She came out of it great,” said Tina. “The surgery took 12 hours, two days in the ICU and a week in hospital, but they were able to remove 95 per cent of it. She has a residual tumour still. But we were then able to come back home. At a time when everyone was feeling the strain of being in lockdown at home due to COVID, we were so happy and thankful to be home.”

Tina and her husband Don are just grateful they were able to get through it all with Ella. Help from family members and friends, along with being able to take time away from work, were huge.

“It’s hard on the parents, so much pressure, so much stress,” conceded Luisa Shillingford, who got both Ella and her brother Angus into skating at an early age and runs the daycare Ella attends.

“This year is really good for them, they’re really able to relax and be with their kids,” she added. “They were able to have family downtime and not to worry about going anywhere.”

Along the way, both the skating community, the Cowichan Valley Minor Hockey Association and the community as a whole pitched in. A GoFundMe was set up for them in November of 2019 by a friend they met through hockey, Tannis McLaren, and a burger and beverage fundraiser with a silent auction and fun games was held at the Aggie Hall in Ladysmith in February of 2020.

Support for these events from strangers, friends and family stretched across the country – with Tina being from Alberta and Don from Nova Scotia.

“These things combined, it saved us from having to worry about anything else except focus on what was important at the time,” said Tina.

“I don’t even know how you can thank people for things like that. So many people offered to help, but you don’t even know what you need, you can’t think straight. The fundraisers and donations allowed us both to be at the hospital together, supporting Ella but also each other.”

Ella recently had her third three-month check-up and “everything has remained the same, the tumour hasn’t grown and she feels good,” said Tina.

Ella’s now on what’s termed ‘watchful waiting.’ Eventually, check-ups will revert to every six months if things remain the same. Ella returned to skating in September after missing the previous season. She also didn’t go to school at all last year, but was happy to be back this year.

And she was all smiles when asked how things are going as she arrived at Fuller Lake Arena for skating practice.

“It’s good.”

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

CancerChildcareFigure skating

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Ella Donovan with mom Tina at Fuller Lake Arena. The family is grateful for all the community support since Ella’s cancer diagnosis. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Ella Donovan with mom Tina at Fuller Lake Arena. The family is grateful for all the community support since Ella’s cancer diagnosis. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Ella Donovan started skating at the age of two and is always excited to get onto the ice. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Ella Donovan started skating at the age of two and is always excited to get onto the ice. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Mom Tina Donovan laces up Ella’s skates before an ice session at Fuller Lake Arena. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Mom Tina Donovan laces up Ella’s skates before an ice session at Fuller Lake Arena. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Ella Donovan on the ice at Fuller Lake Arena. She already has six years of skating experience. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Ella Donovan on the ice at Fuller Lake Arena. She already has six years of skating experience. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Ella Donovan at home. (Photo submitted)

Ella Donovan at home. (Photo submitted)

Just Posted

Emergency crews and animal control responding to a struck pedestrian and limping dog at Quadra and View streets Wednesday morning. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Pedestrian struck at Quadra and View

Emergency crews on scene

Victoria police arrested federal offender Travis Moore April 13, who was wanted for breaching the conditions of his statutory release. (Courtesy of VicPD)
Victoria police arrest federal offender following foot chase

Travis Moore, 28, was wanted for breaching the conditions of his statutory release

A grey whale off the coast of Vancouver Island is being monitored by Canadian and U.S. researchers, as it has developed lesions after being tagged last year. To try and prevent systemic infection from developing, the team administered antibiotics to the whale on March 31 and April 1. (Photo from the NOAA Fisheries website)
Grey whale off Vancouver Island develops lesions after being tagged, researchers monitor its condition

Canadian and U.S. whale experts administered antibiotics to the animal on March 31, April 1

Sooke’s Whiffin Spit in a blaze of glory. (Pete Knight photo)
Whiffin Spit in a blaze of glory. Transition Sooke is calling on the municipality to slow its growth. The group came up with a growth scenario proposal for the Official Community Plan (OCP) which looks different to than the survey scenarios that emerged from the district. (Pete Knight photo)
Transition Sooke calls for slower growth rate

Group submits alternate growth scenario for Official Community Plan review

The Farm Fresh website makes it easy to connect with local farmers. (Courtesy Farm Fresh)
Island Farm Fresh Guide lets residents explore local product

Guide appears in this week’s edition of Black Press Media newspapers from Duncan to Victoria

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. sees 873 more COVID-19 cases Tuesday, decline continues

Hospitalizations up to 377, two more deaths for 1,515 total

Organ donation form from BC Transplant. (BC Transplant)
POLL: Have you registered as an organ donor?

They number 1.5 million strong and growing. But their numbers still fall… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 6

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

FILE – People hold signs during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver on Saturday, August 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. to request federal exemption for simple drug possession

Announcement comes on 5-year anniversary of B.C.’s first public health emergency

(AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, FIle)
Rare blood clots ‘may be linked’ to AstraZeneca vaccines: Health Canada

One case of the adverse effect has been reported in Canada

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has restricted indoor dining at all restaurants in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C.’s COVID-19 indoor dining, drinking ban extending into May

Restaurant association says patio rules to be clarified

Two men walk past a sign on Main Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calls for government transparency in COVID data continue as B.C.’s 3rd wave wears on

Social media, where both information and misinformation can spread like wildfire, has not helped

Sharis Carr, a nurse at the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Service Center in Clarksdale, Miss., holds a box containing doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, April 7, 2021. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in using the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
EXPLAINER: What’s known about COVID vaccines and rare clots

These are not typical blood clots – they’re weird in two ways

Most Read