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Home for the Holidays

    The Lawson family, of Fergus Falls, got a special Christmas present this holiday season that was too big to wrap and didn’t fit under the Christmas tree. Dan, his wife, Christine, and their three children, Isaiah, Isabelle and Benjamin, got a new house. The home is often referred to as Isaiah’s House for the couple’s 4-year-old son who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer a year ago. It’s been built with the support and work of relatives, friends and the community, who often offered services and materials at cost or at no charge. “It’s exciting,” said Christine about their move into the one-story, four-bedroom house. But, she admits a new home wasn’t in the family’s plans. It was, however, a necessity for Isaiah’s health. “Had we not faced cancer, we wouldn’t have left our old home,” she said. “It was a cozy home, and it was where we looked forward to living as our children grew.” The move from their 70-year-old house became apparent as the couple learned more about Isaiah’s treatments. He’d been diagnosed with neuroblastoma in January 2012 after a bout of the stomach flu. The flu’s effects were lingering, and he complained about severe stomach pains that, at one point, left him writhing in pain on the floor. Dan and Christine listened intently as doctors told them the cancer is an aggressive form. Its cause is unknown, but it isn’t hereditary. The number of children diagnosed with it each year, between 300 to 500, is small compared to other cancers, but when it’s your family, the diagnosis is huge, she said. Isaiah had a tumor in his left side and cancer in his bones and marrow. Dan and Christine worked with doctors at Sanford Health in Fargo, N.D., and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to form a treatment plan. “We said from the start that we were determined to do whatever was humanly possible to save our son,” she said. Dan, a seventh-grade science teacher at Kennedy Secondary in Fergus Falls, took time away from work as he and Christine set up a new normal for the family. Friends and family stepped in to help with the younger two as the couple traveled between Fargo and Rochester for treatments. A prayer chain was quickly set up through area churches, and friends made meals for the Lawsons. Isaiah started chemotherapy treatments geared to shrink the tumor, which would later be removed in Rochester. By March 15 they got good news. In the early stages of their battle, the chemotherapy had already reduced the number of cancer cells in the bone marrow from 40 percent to 5 percent. The tumor had also shrunk by 58 percent. At the Mayo, doctors collected Isaiah’s own stem cells, which would be filtered and transplanted back into to his body. It was during their research of the process that Christine took note of the side effects. “I was reading how it would change his entire being,” she said. “He would have new skin cells and could have zero antibodies. His sight would be affected, and there was the potential his hair and eye color could change. He would be susceptible to bacteria and fungal infections.” All the information they received was from a hospital known for its current, up-to-date research. They needed time to absorb the data. “With all this information in front of us, I told Dan, ‘We live in a 70-year-old home that was built in 1941,’” Christine said. “My thinking was that there was a possibility that it could have lead paint.” The back addition had an underground crawl space with a musty smell. The couple was concerned about fungal infections. They also learned that, if there is mold or mildew in the walls, it can be released into a room if the sheetrock or plaster is punctured as it would by simply hanging a picture. The ductwork, they learned, can hold 90 percent of a homes mildew fungus and bacteria. If they were going to return to the home of their dreams, the couple would need to clean out the ductwork and resurface all of their carpeted home. It would mean being out of their home for weeks. “I told him, ‘I think we need a new house,’” she said. Christine called her brother-in-law, Rick Salvesen, a builder, and told him about the research and their home. He quickly agreed to take on the project. Her brother sold them land that would be the perfect spot for their new home. Their first trip was to Gate City Bank where they obtained a home loan, but they also needed to sell their house. They were amazed at the timing. The house sold just five days after it went on the market. Salvesen broke ground in September and, with Walvatne Construction, started to build Isaiah’s House. Once the concrete was laid, Isaiah’s young friends came to write messages and prayers to Isaiah and to bless the house. The home has an air filtering system that will keep fungus and bacteria out. There is no carpet in the home, Christine said. All the floors are either a stylish laminate or tile. A bathroom off the garage is Dan’s place to shower before entering the home. They do have a home loan, but they aren’t sure how much their payments will be, Christine said. “People are blessing and blessing and blessing us,” she said. “Some have donated their services, and others are selling us items at cost. They aren’t making money from the sale.” Isaiah’s hair has grown back, and he has the energy of a 4-year-old as he runs from room to room. He is undergoing immunotherapy. His body now has less than 5 percent of cancer, Christine said. “It’s more of a psychological battle because you start treating him like a normal 4-year-old and yet, you are always fighting against the thought that, yah, he also has cancer. It’s a daily battle between what’s normal for a 4-year-old boy and a 4-year-old with cancer.” The couple is chronicling their journey through Isaiah’s CaringBridge site. In it, Christine talked about her feelings toward her children following Isaiah’s diagnosis. “I will never let another day go by without holding my children while I can,” she wrote. “NEVER! I will never be too busy. And don’t you either. (This goes for grandmas and aunties too.)” The couple took that opportunity to hold their family close after they moved into their new home just days before Christmas.

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