By Starrla Cray
CARVER, WRIGHT COUNTIES, MN In September, Tianna Schilling was a carefree third-grader at Christ Community Lutheran School in Watertown, enjoying life with her parents, Steve and Wendy, and older siblings, Zach and Megan.
No one would have expected that a month later, a 2-inch diameter cancerous tumor would be discovered in her brain.
“This all started in October,” Steve said. “She had an upset stomach, and it just wouldn’t go away. We thought it was a flu bug at first.”
“She was vomiting on and off for two weeks,” Wendy added.
Doctors didn’t find the cause until Tianna’s third appointment.
“I mentioned that she seemed a little off balance,” Wendy said. “I attributed it to her being weak from being sick for two weeks, but that tipped the doctors off that something else was going on.”
The tumor they discovered was large 2 inches across meaning that it had probably been growing for years.
After a successful removal surgery a week later, Tianna’s family hoped the worst was over.
However, lab tests revealed that the tumor was medulloblastoma, the most common malignant (cancerous) central nervous system tumor in children. According to the Children’s Hospital Boston, about 500 cases of medulloblastoma are diagnosed each year in the United States.
“That’s when they told us she’d need radiation and chemotherapy,” Wendy said.
Proton radiation was deemed the best choice for Tianna, because it allows high doses to be delivered in a targeted area.
“It’s much more precise,” Wendy said. “It’s just the areas that need it, not the healthy tissues.”
In mid-November, Wendy and Tianna headed for Chicago, the closest place to offer proton radiation therapy.
They plan to be home in time for Tianna’s benefit, Saturday, Jan. 21 from 1 to 7 p.m. at Mayer Lutheran High School.
The benefit will include a bake sale and hamburger bar. The cost is $10 for a single burger, and $15 for a double.
Tickets can be purchased at Christ Community Lutheran School (CCLS), Mayer Lutheran High School (MLHS), St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Watertown, St. Peter Lutheran Church in Watertown, or at the door the day of the event.
“The beef is from the Schilling farm, and it was processed at Schroeder Meat Market in New Germany,” said Kim Martin, who works at CCLS.
The Schilling family is well-known in the Carver County area.
“They have helped so many with their time to volunteer in many areas,” noted CCLS board chairman Rob Wilkening, adding that the Schillings are “one of the most loving families ever.”
“They are just spectacular,” Martin added. “I know it sounds cliché, but they really are a stand-up, nice family.”
Steve raises beef cattle on the family’s farm east of Watertown, and Zach, 16, is a student at MLHS. Megan, 18, is an MLHS graduate who is attending Empire Beauty School for cosmetology.
Wendy teaches third and fourth grade at CCLS, and Tianna is a student in her class this year.
Despite missing some school, Tianna is doing her best to keep up with her class.
“The fact that I’m her teacher helps a lot, actually,” Wendy said. “I’m doing my best to keep her up on the core subjects.”
Help and hope
When Tianna and Wendy return to Minnesota, Tianna will receive chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis for about a year. Fortunately, she will be able to go to school most of that time.
The Schillings are praying that Tianna will have a full recovery after her treatment.
“That’s the hope,” Wendy said. “There will be a big celebration then.”
Steve and Wendy said they are extremely grateful for the community support they’ve received during this difficult time.
“We’ve had a lot of people offer to help,” Steve said, explaining that people have given gas cards, gift cards, money, help with farm chores, and more.
“It’s so heartwarming,” Wendy said. “We’ve been surrounded with prayers. It’s very uplifting. It makes you a stronger person, and it makes your faith stronger, too. God is with us every step of the way.”
While in Chicago, Wendy and Tianna have been staying at Country Inn & Suites. A friend who works for the hotel’s parent company, Carlson, was able to get them a reduced rate, and the remainder was paid by people at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Watertown.
“The community has been awesome,” Steve said.
Tianna’s Caring Bridge website, www.caringbridge.org/visit/tiannalschilling, has had more than 20,000 visitors since it was created in October.
A fund as been set up at Citizen Alliance Bank (formerly known as Security State Bank) in downtown Watertown for anyone wishing to make a cash donation to the Schilling family.
Donations can be mailed to Citizens Alliance Bank, c/o Tianna Schilling Trust, 204 Lewis Ave. S., Watertown, MN 55388.