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Battle with cancer unites family and friends

Leniece Trahan faces chemotherapy with support of family and friends

By Alyssa Nenemay

Lene smiles during her 11th birthday, which was days before her diagnosis. (Courtesy Photo)Lene smiles during her 11th birthday, which was days before her diagnosis. (Courtesy Photo)

RONAN — Sweat beads dripped from her budding hairline as she pushed herself through the last five minutes of physical therapy. The stationary bike pedals seemed to grow heavier with each push but a bright smile remained across Leniece Trahan’s face. “Three more minutes, Lene you’re doing great!” the physical therapist said. “Noooo!” the 12-year-old giggled.

Humor has always been a trait shared within the Trahan home but over the past year, laughter has become a treasured source of strength. Days after her 12th birthday, “Lene” was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer. Because Osteosarcoma typically develops in cells of growing bones, it primarily affects children or teens.

Lene (L) and her mother Jennifer (R) pose for professional photos that were taken before Lene shaved her head. “Lene has shown me what strength is,” says Jennifer. (Courtesy Photo)Lene (L) and her mother Jennifer (R) pose for professional photos that were taken before Lene shaved her head. “Lene has shown me what strength is,” says Jennifer. (Courtesy Photo)

Lene’s diagnoses came last spring when she tripped and hit her knee while running laps in P.E. class. Unlike other falls, Lene’s knee continued to hurt throughout the month, which resulted in three trips to urgent care. “Each time we brought her in, they looked at her knee and said it was fine,” Lene’s mother Jennifer Trahan recalled. “They said her bone was probably bruised and that’s why it was taking so long to heal.”

Over a month had passed and on Mother’s Day, Lene’s toddler aged nephew accidently hit her knee. “Lene screamed in pain. I have never heard her scream like that, I can’t describe it. Lene plays all kinds of sports and she never complains about getting hurt. I knew in my heart something was really wrong. I said forget this, we’re going to E.R,” said Jennifer.

Lene prepares for a body scan, which is part of her Chemotherapy treatment process. (Courtesy Photo)Lene prepares for a body scan, which is part of her Chemotherapy treatment process. (Courtesy Photo)

After working out insurance issues, Lene was seen in the Emergency Room in Ronan. At Jennifer’s request, an x-ray was performed and the doctor informed the family that a mass was found in Lene’s left knee. She was referred to an orthopedic surgeon at the Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington.

“The first time we met her doctor he came in and said: ‘So, you’ve got a small ping pong size cancerous mass in your knee.’ Lene and I just looked at each other and burst out crying. That was the first we heard of the tumor. He must have thought we already knew,” said Jennifer.

The announcement of Lene’s cancer changed the Trahan family’s lives forever. Lene began chemotherapy treatments on July 1 in Spokane and has been traveling six hours round trip to receive treatment three weeks a month. In August, Lene had an allergic reaction to medication that required a six-pint blood transfusion. She nearly lost her life.

“Chemotherapy is hard on her. She is always so tired after and she’s had mouth sores. She’s been nauseous, no appetite. It’s been hard watching her go through this but she is a tough little chick,” said Jennifer.

Lene shows the over one-foot incision that remains from her knee replacement surgery. Lene was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in her left knee. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay) Lene shows the over one-foot incision that remains from her knee replacement surgery. Lene was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma in her left knee. (Photo By Alyssa Nenemay)

Doctors said Lene’s fall in P.E. stopped the tumor’s growth and allowed for early detection. “The fall was a blessing in disguise. I can’t explain what this is like. As a parent you just go over and over in your head: ‘what could I have done?’ I hug my kids even tighter than before,” said Jennifer.

On September 12, Lene went through a 13-hour knee replacement surgery to have the mass removed. After three months of treatment, the localized tumor was reportedly 95 percent benign, meaning there were very little cancerous cells left. Considering the expectation was 12 to 40 percent, Lene’s doctor described her surgery as “perfect.”

“This is my battle wound,” Lene said of the over one-foot incision that spans down her leg. “My dad thinks he’s tough because he had surgery on his arm but I think mine is bigger. I won’t mind the scar once it’s healed up. I like scars, they make you look tough.”

Lene’s long time friend Persephone Sandoval (L) shaved her head in solidarity. The two were reunited recently and had an opportunity to visit. (Courtesy Photo)Lene’s long time friend Persephone Sandoval (L) shaved her head in solidarity. The two were reunited recently and had an opportunity to visit. (Courtesy Photo)

Amidst her chemotherapy, Lene has had issues adjusting to the hair loss and the isolation “bubble” that her mother said resulted from healing. Being home schooled full-time, Lene has been communicating with friends on her iPad, namely her friend since pre-school Persephone Sandoval. “School hasn’t been the same this year without Lene. She’s always the one who makes everyone laugh,” said Sandoval.

Along with Lene’s cousin Sammie Friedlander, Sandoval and other friends from school shaved their heads in solidarity. The girls also went a step further and organized a bake sale at Ronan Harvest Foods to help support Lene and her family through the process.

“Lene had expressed to Persephone that she was worried about coming back to school because of her hair loss. One day Seph made up her mind and wanted to shave her head so that Lene wouldn’t be alone,” said Sandoval’s mother Cristen TwoTeeth.

Some of Lene’s friends from school shaved their heads in solidarity and also hosted a bake sale to show support. The girls baked most of the treats themselves. (Courtesy Photo)Some of Lene’s friends from school shaved their heads in solidarity and also hosted a bake sale to show support. The girls baked most of the treats themselves. (Courtesy Photo)

“It really touched my heart when those girls shaved their heads. I cried. When Lene saw the photos of them, she smiled. I know it made her feel better. At one point she wouldn’t even take off her hat and she was sweating. It was summer. Now she doesn’t mind,” said Jennifer.

The Trahan’s have also received support from CS&K Tribal Health, Mission Mountain Survivors who recently hosted a silent auction benefit, and several tribal employees who have donated leave to Lene’s parents Les and Jennifer Trahan. Lene has also been approved for the Make a Wish Foundation.

“We’ve gotten so much support from the community through this and we’re thankful for that. People have donated time so that Les and I could take Lene to her appointments and our supervisors have been supportive. Tribal Health has been really helpful, especially Gloria Quiver. We would also like to thank our family especially Lene’s qene Shirley Trahan who has given advice and my brother Lance Friedlander who has been helping me through this difficult time,” said Jennifer.

Since losing her hair, Lene has taken up make-up as a hobby. She has received makeup donations on Pinterest and likes to follow Michelle Phan on Youtube for ideas. (Courtesy Photo)Since losing her hair, Lene has taken up make-up as a hobby. She has received makeup donations on Pinterest and likes to follow Michelle Phan on Youtube for ideas. (Courtesy Photo)

Lene’s Chemotherapy is on hold until her incision heals. After which she has eight treatments left. Lene hopes to return to school in February and has been under the care of her older sister Karissa during the day.

Finishing her physical therapy, Lene sipped water from a paper cup. She wiped sweat from her head before putting on her favorite “Adventure Time” beanie hat. The family was preparing to drive to Spokane for another treatment. “I don’t mind traveling now that I get to sit in the front. I like to listen to the CDs Tom makes my mom and dance. I used to get sick in the back. Whatever I do, I try to have fun,” she said.

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