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BE family on a journey with Rosie

By Staff | Jan 15, 2017

Aaron and Angie Evenson with their 3-year-old daughter, Rosie, just after her surgery when she was first diagnosed with a rare form of kidney cancer.

It is hard now to imagine how our lives went from normal to a nightmare in a single moment, just immediately,” says Aaron Evenson, of Blue Earth.

Evenson and his wife, Angie, have been having to face a battle with cancer in their 3-year-old daughter, Rosie for more than three months.

It all happened last September.

“We were on our annual family camping trip to the Black Hills,” Evenson recalls. “And everything had been fine.”

But on the way back home, with a stop at Angie’s parents home in Mitchell, South Dakota, things were no longer fine.

Rosie Evenson hides her head (and lack of hair) under a blanket during one of her many visits to the childrens’ hospital in Sioux Falls where she has undergone two surgeries, radiation and chemo treatments.

“Rosie had become lethargic and acting a little different,” Evenson says. “Then she had a temperature.”

When she got up from a nap, still acting ill, Evenson decided to check her tummy, but isn’t sure why he did it.

“It wasn’t something I would normally do. But I felt a firm spot on her tummy,” he said. “And it felt very strange.”

That translated into a trip to the emergency room on Thursday, Sept. 22, then a midnight run from Mitchell to Sioux Falls.

“The doctors ran all kinds of tests, trying to rule out all the big possibilities,” Evenson says. “Things like cancer, an enlarged spleen or blood infection.”

On Monday, Sept. 26, they met with a specialist at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls.

“The doctor sat us down,” Evenson recalls. “And said he had some bad news for us.”

It was worse than the Evensons had feared. Far worse.

Rosie had stage-four kidney cancer. She had something called a Wilms tumor, a rare form of kidney cancer that usually only strikes children.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the cancer had metastasized (cancer cells breaking away from the original tumor and forming new tumors elsewhere in the body) and she also had four or five tumors in her lungs.

“Words are inadequate to say how we felt, how we were stunned,” Evenson says. “We really could not believe it.”

Less than 24 hours later, on Tuesday, Sept. 27, Rosie had surgery to remove the tumor on her kidney, which also included removal of the kidney.

She spent a week in the hospital recovering from the surgery. Then she was able to stay home just a day or two in Blue Earth before returning to Sioux Falls for the start of radiation treatments.

Since that time, Rosie has had to endure another major surgery last month (to remove tumors in one of her lungs), about three weeks of radiation treatments, multiple long hospital stays, weekly chemo and several weeklong chemo treatments in the hospital.

There have also been several trips to the ER, because any kind of sickness or fever or anything else could be serious with her immune system down from the chemo and radiation.

There has also been an ambulance and helicopter emergency trips to Sioux Falls, including one just over a week ago.

The stays in the hospital are required as Rosie has more and stronger chemo with potential side effects.

And sure enough, one of the chemo drugs caused her to go into anaphylactic shock.

“There were 10 to 15 docs and nurses surrounding her,” Evenson says. “It was unreal and scary.”

The Evensons say this has taken a real toll on their family. Besides 3-year-old Rosie, they have three other children: Grace, 5, Sophia, 2, and Lincoln, 5 months.

“The kids are spending some time with us and some with Angie’s parents,” Evenson says. “And, of course, Lincoln goes where we go, or I should say he goes where Angie goes, actually.”

Evenson is the director of the Refuge, the Youth for Christ youth center in Blue Earth.

“They (the Youth for Christ people) are very understanding,” Evenson says. “They want me to focus on my family, be home and be with them. I am still involved, mainly through email, but they have a lot of people helping, stepping up, and that is a blessing to see. Eventually I will get back to full time.”

Angie Evenson agrees.

“I can’t say how much it means to have Aaron able to be with us all the time, it is a true blessing,” she says. “The emotional trauma on all of us; we have all needed each other, and we have needed Aaron.”

They have also needed their family and friends. And besides that, the support of the whole community.

“The support and prayers of everyone in the area has been incredible,” says Angie Evenson. “We came here eight years ago from larger cities and now I see what it means to live in a small town. I have never been more grateful for living here.”

She relates making a phone call to Ankeny Furniture inquiring about if they sold a mattress for a special bed for Rosie. She needed one to help ease the pain in her body.

“Bruce Ankeny gave us the mattress,” she says. “But that is not all. We had water back up in our basement and Royers fixed it for free. Coxworth fixed our water softener. Juba’s has given us food, people have brought us meals lots of meals. And our neighbors came and put up Christmas lights on our house while we were gone.”

When they had car trouble, that got repaired for free as well. And not only that, but several folks offered to lend them their own cars if they needed to use them while theirs was being fixed.

And then, of course, there is the now-famous story of the Hometown Sanitation garbage haulers and their relationship with the Evensons and Rosie. Turn to the Editor’s Notebook column on page 4 of this issue for more details on this story.

This has been a whirlwind journey for the Evenson family, but through it all they have used their strong faith and the prayers of all their friends and family and so many others to keep them going.

“Our faith in Jesus, people, prayer and the church has never been stronger,” Evenson says. “Just like God gave us his son, Jesus, at Christmas, so people have given us so much. Especially their prayers. So many people and churches are all praying for us and for Rosie. They are all loving us.”

And, he adds, they certainly need all those prayers and all that love.

“It is amazing how much this (dealing with Rosie’s cancer) has become a new normal for us,” Angie Evenson says. “The phone calls, the trips to the ER, the doctors and nurses, the prescriptions, dealing with it all on a daily basis.”

And just being with their little girl through this whole ordeal has been hard.

“We were a happy little family,” she continues. “We had a simple life, with a little bad but mostly doing fine. Who would have thought that our world would turn upside down in just one day? It has taken a while to adjust to this new normal, but we need to go through it now, with God’s help and a whole lot of prayer.”