Absolute shock: Tahoe residents come together to help child battling cancer
How you can help
Azzara’s Italian Restaurant — located in the Raley’s Center in Incline Village — will be open Sunday and Monday, Nov. 13-14, from 4-9 p.m. with a limited menu.
Sponsors include Sierra Meat & Seafood, Truckee Sourdough, Stohlgren Brothers Distributing, Southern Wine, Bonanza Produce and Sysco Foods.
“Team Ty Ty” flat-brimmed hats will also be available for purchase. Visit www.azzaras.com or call 775-831-0346 to learn more.
Donate online: You can also visit www.gofundme.com/TyWhisler to donate directly to Ty Whisler’s medical fund. As of Wednesday morning, more than $53,000 had been raised toward a $75,000 goal.
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — On Sept. 1, ten-year-old North Lake Tahoe resident Ty Whisler was playing soccer when he got kicked in the head by a fellow player.
Thinking that he had a concussion because of his slurred speech, Jill Whisler took him to Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee.
Dr. Jonathan Laine performed a CT scan and found something much more severe … a possible brain tumor.
As Ty was being rushed to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno via ambulance, the frightening diagnosis was confirmed — Ty was suffering from a Grade 4 medulloblastoma, which the family calls “octopus-like” because of how the tentacles spread through other parts of his cranium and wrapped around his brain stem.
On Sept. 6, Ty went to the Bay Area and underwent a craniectomy to try to remove as much of the tumor as possible, but the family still has a long way to go in fighting the cancer.
Ty has been in radiation for four weeks, with two more weeks to go, and then he’ll start chemotherapy.
Although he is able to get treatment through Stanford Children’s Health in San Francisco, it is still hours away from home.
AMAZING COMMUNITY SUPPORT
One of the scariest things about Ty’s diagnosis is that no one saw it coming. He’s active in baseball, soccer and in simply being a 10-year-old kid. So for everyone who knows him, this is an absolute shock.
“I just took him on a hike up to the peak of a 10,000-foot mountain,” says Ty’s mother, Jill.
She said that even a couple of months ago, he knocked his front teeth out at a birthday party skating and just went through a root canal. All of it was fine.
“The tumor was in the back of his head in the part of the brain that affects his balance, but he must’ve compensated that with his body in baseball and soccer,” she says.
Whisler added that Ty’s only real symptom seemed to be some irritability.
Despite enduring the challenges of constant travel to the Bay Area for cancer treatments with one dependable car, being away from the rest of the family, eating out for meals, medical bills, and missing work, for the most part, Jill and Ty remain in good spirits.
“He feels good, loves to tell jokes. He’s such a sports fan — he was rooting for the Cubs and was Anthony Rizzo for Halloween,” she says. “Ty misses his friends and family, though. Every day he asks if he can go to school.”
She added that it can be a bit overwhelming for him because he doesn’t remember a lot of what happened or how people know him.
“You can’t get caught up in being upset; he’s got a 70 percent chance of conquering this,” she says.
Jill says she is extremely grateful for the outpouring of care the family has received from the community as well.
“Everyone has been amazingly supportive,” she adds.
It has also created conversation within the community, giving parents the opportunity to talk about empathy and life with their kids.
“It’s cool to see this kind of dialogue,” Jill says. “I love this kid who kicked him in the head; that concussion was the best thing to happen to us. If this had gone undiagnosed for even two more weeks, Ty would’ve been in a coma and then they wouldn’t have known what to look for.”
Team Ty Ty Bands Together
Wearing a flat-brimmed TTT hat in San Francisco Giants colors, Ty’s best friend, Carson Crus, just got done with a soccer game.
Ty came to a game of his over the weekend and helped coach from the sidelines, but Carson’s mom, Rachel Crus, says, “All weekend I thought, ‘that kid belongs on the field.’”
Rachel says that she worked with Ty’s baseball coach to get a couple hundred TTT hats made, which stand for “Team Ty Ty.”
“I wanted (Ty) to come home and feel an entire community behind him without words,” Rachel says.
Asking Carson if people inquire about the meaning of his hat, he says, “Yes. I tell them that my friend is fighting cancer, that he has a brain tumor and that this will help him get through it.”
Carson adds that when he first heard about Ty’s brain tumor, he didn’t know what was happening.
“It’s devastating, he’s like one of my own,” says Rachel about Ty’s diagnosis.
Although Carson and Ty went fishing a few weeks ago and Ty caught his first fish, Rachel says that Carson being away from his best friend has turned him into an emotional roller coaster.
Azzara’s Gets Involved
Cord Gitchell has three sons, one of whom played baseball against Ty’s team. A few months ago, Gitchell coached Tyler when he made the All Star Team.
“He was one of the nicest kids on the team; he really made an impact on me,” Gitchell says.
He adds that he randomly went on Facebook and saw Ty’s Go Fund Me pop up.
“I thought a lot about him and it just tore me up,” says Gitchell. “I knew I had to do something more than just donate.”
The Incline Village Azzara’s Italian Restaurant co-owner says that he lost his father to cancer when he was just 4 years old, so watching his sons grow up affects him greatly.
“My dad never saw me get to that age, so I think about him every day,” he says.
In high school, Gitchell fundraised for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and then about seven years ago, he hosted a fundraiser for a woman who had a rare form of cancer.
“She’s still alive and well and I think this (fundraiser for Tyler) is going to be even bigger,” he says.
He talked to his wife, Andrea Azzara Gitchell, about wanting to do something for Ty.
“He is always fun-loving, brought a positive attitude, and is gifted. This knocked me off my feet what this kid is going through, I was stunned,” Gitchell adds. “I just coached him a few months earlier, he showed no signs of fatigue.”
Gitchell says that although his own 10-year-old son is fairly aware of what goes on around him, it’s hard for him to grasp what brain cancer is or what Ty could be going through.
“It’s hard to explain the randomness of it, but he is curious and trying to understand,” says Gitchell.
‘WE’RE ALL PRAYING FOR HIM’
When learning of Whisler’s diagnosis, Gitchell said that he had the mindset of wanting to do whatever he could to help.
“I saw people start to share this throughout the community; I reached out to Ty’s parents to ask if we could put on a fundraiser,” he says.
Once they received the family’s blessing, the couple went to work on how they could make it happen.
Andrea Azzara Gitchell says, “I don’t know (the Whislers) that well, but I have a 10-year-old, and your focus goes from how he does on that test to how he’s going to beat this cancer.”
In an effort to help Ty and the family get through this, the Gitchells will open up the restaurant with a limited menu. One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to Ty Whisler’s medical fund.
All wait staff are volunteering their service and tips, and officials with the North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District will make an appearance.
“We will have about five entrees, and every penny will go to Ty, so we’re going to try and get as many people through the door as we can,” Cord Gitchell says. “If everyone gets involved, it’s great how it trickles down.”
“He’s such a little fighter, I know he’s going to be fine in the long run,” he adds. “We’re all praying for the kid, he’s so great. The Cubs winning (the 2016 World Series) is so fitting for Ty — we look at it like a baseball game, everyone tries to do what they can to win.”
Kayla Anderson is an Incline Village-based freelance writer with a background in marketing and journalism. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.