At three years old, Dylan Ellefson was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
He thought he had it beat and was cancer free for seven years, when he relapsed and had to go back to the hospital for treatment.
Now, at 13 years old, Dylan is in and out of Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma and struggling to have a normal life. He has regular check ups and when his white cell counts are too low, he’s trapped on the couch watching TV, while siblings are outside having fun.
“You just deal with it,” Dylan says. “This has almost become normal. … But I’ll be excited when it’s all over.”
Ellefson splits his time between Montesano with his dad Jason and stepmom Ashly and in the Pierce County city of Buckley with his mom Diane Ussery. He has a 15-year-old brother, Jacob; a nine-month-old brother, Eli and a 16-year-old stepbrother, Tyler.
And, although he doesn’t live in Hoquiam, the coastal city is about to honor Dylan in a big way.
Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers said that he and his officers put out feelers across the county for a kid who deserves some special recognition. Ashly works at Wishkah Elementary as a teacher and had been selling shirts as a fundraiser to pay for some of Dylan’s medical expenses. A friend at the elementary school contacted Hoquiam officials and Dylan was chosen for the Chief For a Day program, where he will put on a Hoquiam Police uniform and a special badge and travel in a motorcade from Kent to Burien to a special celebration at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission Academy on Aug. 21.
“This statewide event is to celebrate the lives of children who have been diagnosed with life-threatening or chronic medical conditions,” Myers said. “Dylan and his family will visit the police academy to forget about his illness — even if just for one day while he is chief. While spending the day at the academy, Dylan will wear a Hoquiam police uniform and keep a special commemorative police badge in his honor.”
Myers says Dylan has a “never-give-up” attitude that should inspire just about anyone.
He still has the IV scars on his chest from a recent stay at the hospital.
“I always felt pretty good but when I’m getting the chemo, I haven’t felt as good,” Dylan says. “I’m pretty normal most of the time. Basically, it’s the same life I’ve had — except going to the hospital every now and then. I still go to school — although I get homework sent to me when I’ve been at the hospital.”
“Sometimes, he’s not allowed to go anywhere or do anything and has to stay home away from people because his immunity is so low and we’re all afraid he may catch an infection or a virus,” Ashly says.
“I should have a white cell count of 4,000 like a normal person, but sometimes it gets down to 1,000,” he said. “And I have to be really careful.”
At this point, he’s done with the most aggressive part of the treatment. It’s just three years of “maintenance” to make sure the leukemia stays away, Jason says.
“This kind of stuff shouldn’t happen to kids and here we are, it’s happening again,” Jason said. “He was doing great at wrestling and everything — just to see him lose a bunch of weight and be bed-ridden, it’s heartbreaking. I think about him all the time especially in summer time when his brother is out having fun and Dylan is sitting therein a hospital bed watching TV.”
When the counts are good, though, he’s outside playing. He makes the most of his time by wake boarding, riding his bike and, lately, has taken to uni-cycling.
“I got him a unicycle to work on his balance issues,” Jason says.
“It’s so fun, though, but I need practice,” Dylan adds.
When he relapsed, Dylan says he felt a mix of emotions— everything from crying to frustration and anger. He says hes learned to accept it and is just trying to move past it.
“It’s more annoying the second time than the first time,” he says. “I don’t think this is going to be totally over for me now until high school.”
He says he was just getting good at wrestling and is eager to return. He had also recently picked up a saxophone after learning the clarinet in the fifth grade.
“I’m taking pills everyday now and before I was going to the hospital for chemo and they would run it through the IV,” he said.
“When he was sick the first time, it was all a guessing game and we were just so mad that he was sick,” Ashly said. “He was so young, he didn’t understand why he didn’t feel very good. This time, he’s older and it’s just black and white, like, this is how I feel, this is what’s going on. That’s probably the biggest positive this time around. its a lot less of a guessing game. it was like a slap in the face.
Dylan says he’s looking forward to the chief for a day program, where he’ll be presented at a Hoquiam City Council meeting and also be able to ride in a tug boat, as well as a big event with other kids in the Puget Sound area.
In addition to the celebration, the Hoquiam Police Department is partnering with other agencies and local businesses to provide gifts and support to Dylan and his family which will be presented on the day of the celebration.The goal is to raise $1,000 to purchase items Dylan can use, such as a laptop to do homework while in the hospital or at home. Donations can be sent to HOQUIAM CHIEF FOR A DAY, 215-10th St., Hoquiam, WA 98550.
“I would like to say thank you to all the people trying to raise money for me,” Dylan says. “This has really been overwhelming.”