Cedar Grove families are stunned when their children, 7 and 16, are stricken with brain tumors
The odds are almost too small to believe.
Two kids who live around the corner from each other in Cedar Grove, whose parents have known each other basically their whole lives, had brain tumors in the exact same spot, diagnosed within a week of each other.
Mason Deppiesse’s story began earlier this year when his first-grade teacher at Cedar Grove-Belgium Elementary School, Kris Sass, sent an e-mail to his mom, Shelly Deppiesse, saying Mason had fallen out of his chair.
“You kind of just chalk it up to growing, being a normal first-grader,” Shelly Deppiesse said. “They fall all the time.”
Then Mason, 7, started falling during recess and gym class and started walking into door frames.
He started using his left hand to brush his teeth and eat, a sign that something was off with the right side of his body.
“We took him to Children’s Hospital (of Wisconsin) and had an MRI done,” Shelly said. “The results weren’t going to come in for a few days, but we couldn’t wait that long.
“So we took him to the emergency room and they performed a CT scan that revealed the tumor.”
Medulloblastoma, the doctors called it. Cancer.
The doctors ran tests on Mason’s spinal fluid, which tested positive for cancerous cells, but there weren’t any more tumors.
“As a mom, it was a good feeling to know that his spine wasn’t full of tumors,” Shelly said. “It was bad enough to know that he had a brain tumor.”
He had surgery to remove the tumor on April 17.
The Deppiesses shared their story with family and friends on CaringBridge, a website that helps provide updates on patient conditions.
When Chad and Jackie Hoopman read the postings, their hearts sank.
“It was item for item, the exact same symptoms that Elysia was having,” Chad Hoopman said of his daughter, a sophomore at Cedar Grove-Belgium High School.
The Hoopmans knew something was off in September when Elysia’s cross-country coach, Les Paul, called saying she had complained about headaches almost every day.
“Our first thought was maybe it was a pinched nerve or something,” Chad Hoopman said. “We went to a few chiropractor appointments that helped initially, but the headaches didn’t go away.”
Their next thought was dehydration, so they gave Elysia a water bottle to take to school. She had an X-ray taken of the back of her neck, but nothing showed up.
The symptoms seemed to subside a bit until track season started in March.
“Coach Paul called me again and said something is out of whack,” Chad said. “By then Elysia was complaining of becoming left-hand dominant and we noticed her handwriting was degrading.”
After reading the Deppiesses’ CaringBridge entry on April 12, Chad and Jackie Hoopman checked Elysia’s planner to see if her writing changed.
The differences between September and March were striking.
“You see this nice, immaculate handwriting and we started paging through and got to February and it was almost chicken scratch,” Chad said.
It was frustrating, Elysia said.
“I could barely read what I was writing, I was so mad at myself,” she said. “I didn’t know what was going on and why my handwriting changed.”
Elysia went to the family doctor in Sheboygan the next day and got a referral to Children’s Hospital.
Neurologists there confirmed what the family feared. Elysia had surgery on April 21 to remove a tumor from the right side of her cerebellum, the same spot where Mason’s tumor was.
This one, however, wasn’t cancerous.
She left the hospital on April 27 and began physical and occupational therapy four times a week.
On Monday, she completed her first full day of school in more than a month.
“It was really nice to see everyone and get all my classes in,” Elysia said.
She has a follow up appointment scheduled for next week and will have tests done in three months to make sure she’s healthy.
Next fall, she hopes to participate in cross-country again.
“Everything is just going to take time to heal,” Elysia said. “I’m lucky I can do sports and I can run and be active.”
Mason has a longer road to recovery. He will start radiation this week for the next six weeks while also taking a round of chemotherapy once a week.
After the radiation and first chemo rounds are finished, he will take a few weeks off and start a six-month round of chemo. The treatments will be an inpatient procedure for three days, once a month.
The 10-year survival rate, Shelly said, is about 65%.
“The doctors seem pretty confident that they will be able to help us,” she said.
Mason has been out of school since April, but his classmates stopped by last week.
“I just put Mason in the front yard in a lawn chair and the kids all came up, sat down and had a doughnut party,” Shelly said. “They all have questions like ‘Does it hurt?’ or ‘How long were you in the hospital?’”
Living in a small town, the community response has been overwhelming and word has spread quickly, Dave Deppiesse said.
“We were up north last weekend and my father-in-law went in to the grocery store and a lady walked up to him and asked how his grandson was doing,” he said.
Support has come from all over the world, Shelly said.
“Mason’s class has a pen pal from Egypt, so they’ve been praying for him,” she said.
She joked that it was nice for those wanting to come visit when both were in the hospital because they could see Mason and Elysia at the same time.
“We have been getting cards, meals, people who see you on the street say they are praying for you,” Shelly said.
It helps, she said, to have another family going through a similar situation.
“We have our good days and our bad days,” she said. “The Hoopmans are really the only ones who know exactly what we are going through.”
A benefit to help with Mason’s medical bills and other expenses — which is being organized by the Hoopmans — is scheduled for Saturday, June 13, at Independence Park in Cedar Grove.
“There will be a youth corn hole tournament, food, beverages, a youth tent and dunk tank,” Chad Hoopman said.
A GoFundMe website has been established for Mason, which has raised more than $5,800 in just more than two weeks.
At another event, the high school sold 144 doughnuts in 15 minutes.
“I think the kids just like to get involved and know that they’re helping,” Shelly said.
For updates on Mason’s treatments, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/masondeppiesse.
Image information: CEDAR GROVE NEIGHBORS Mason Deppiesse and Elysia Hoopman were both diagnosed with brain tumors within a week of each other last month. The tumors were located in the cerebellum on the right side of the brain. Both children experienced similar symptoms, like using their left hand more often and shaky handwriting. Photo by Sam Arendt