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How one word can turn your life upside down

Rick Leibel holds a photo of his son Dennon, 17, who was recently diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer.
May 02, 2014 - 12:15 PM


VERNON - Just a few weeks ago, 17-year-old Dennon Leibel was attending his last few classes before graduating high school. Now, he’s in a hospital bed, going through his first round of chemo.

The word cancer turned his life, and his family’s, upside down. It was sudden and unexpected; no one thought Dennon, a healthy, active teen would get a rare bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma.

“The first thing I thought was why isn’t it me? Why is it him? Is he going to live?” father Rick Leibel says.

Cancer always happens to someone else, until it doesn’t. Suddenly, you’re wheeled into a foreign land of medical rooms and unfamiliar terminology.

“There’s no guide book,” Dennon’s aunt Jody Leibel, a nurse, says. “Your life changes in an instant. They really have no idea what they’re dealing with yet — we’re only in the first week of treatment.”

Dennon, a grade 12 student at Clarence Fulton Secondary School and avid hockey player, woke up a few weeks ago with numbness in his leg. Everyone, including him, thought it was a sports injury, possibly a pinched nerve—anything but the 15 cm by 11 cm tumor doctors found lodged in his pelvis. It was much, much more than they could ask aunt Jody, their standby nurse, to fix.

Instead of shopping for a suit to wear at prom, Dennon is now facing a year of chemo, followed by surgery to remove the tumour, then more chemo — a treatment plan with a 50-70 per cent success rate.

Rick would sell his house and everything he's worked for in an instant to pay for his son's treatment. That's the easy part. Trying to stay positive, trying not to pore over online forums about Ewing's sarcoma, having to say goodbye to his son every week to return to work — those are the difficult parts. Dennon’s sister Alexis, 19, says it’s hard to see her witty, upbeat, jokester of a baby brother cooped up in a hospital bed.

“You want to do what you can to help, but all you can really do is be there for him and be positive for him,” she says.

Dennon’s mom will stay with him through the course of his treatment at B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, while Rick and Alexis take turns visiting on weekends. Dennon, never without his cell phone, has received countless messages of support from friends and his grad class. There’s a chance he’ll be able to come home for grad. It would only be a short visit, and his energy would be zapped from the chemo, but it’s something to hope for.

For Dennon’s family, the diagnosis has been a reminder and a wake-up call that no one is immune to tragedy.

“You shouldn’t fret the little stuff, you should take into account what matters,” Alexis says. “Anything can happen, be grateful for what you have.”

Having been through the medical system, Rick has been inspired to give blood and sign up to be a bone marrow donor.

“It’s like, you always talk about it and never do it,” Rick says. “Having my son go through this and people needing blood, as soon as I can I’m going to go down and do it. It’s a piece of cake to do it — we all should. It shouldn’t take something to happen for it to wake you up.”

Unbeknownst to Dennon’s parents, Jody set up an online fundraiser to help with expenses. The campaign earned over $10,000 in three days.

“It shows in a time of need the community comes together to support you, whether it’s by donating or giving words of encouragement,” Alexis says.

Dennon Leibel is a grade 12 student at Clarence Fulton Secondary. He plays hockey for the North Okanagan Knights.
Dennon Leibel is a grade 12 student at Clarence Fulton Secondary. He plays hockey for the North Okanagan Knights.
Image Credit: Jody Leibel

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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