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'Pray for Montana'

Union raising funds for Yellowknife couple whose four-year-old son is fighting cancer

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 19/01) - "Pray for us and our two babies," urges Lorna Moraff.

As Moraff and her husband, Dennis, await the birth of their second child they are witnessing their first struggle for his life.

NNSL Photo

Christmas is the last thing on the minds of the Moraff family. Three-year-old Montana Moraff is battling cancer in an Alberta hospital as his mother, Lorna, is about to give birth to the family's second child. - photo courtesy of Lorna and Dennis Moraff

Four-year-old Montana, who had just started attending Yellowknife Play School, began having health problems in September.

At first, doctors did not know what to make of the little boy's laboured breathing and loss of appetite. The Moraffs now know that both were the result of a cancerous tumour growing at an alarming rate in the left side of Montana's chest.

A month after the symptoms first appeared, the tumour was so big it was blocking the air passage to the Montana's left lung.

Montana and his parents were immediately flown to Edmonton's University of Alberta Hospital. There he underwent emergency radiation treatments to relieve the pressure on the air passage and his heart.

Dennis was horrified when he saw a CAT scan of his son's chest. The tumour was so big he asked the doctor if his son had been born with it.

"His heart was pushed over on the left side," said Dennis. "This tumour was taking right over."

Lorna is scheduled to give birth next week. At the same time, Montana will be recovering between his fourth and fifth treatments in a course of chemotherapy.

"With the situation we have, with all the downs that have come, we just have to think positively," Lorna said.

"Sometimes it gets overwhelming, I have to admit," said Dennis. "Just the whole thing, if you've got a minute and just think about it. But that's the thing, you don't have too many minutes to think about it."

Montana turns five on Jan. 14.

Doctors believe he will require a number of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

After that, the boy will likely undergo surgery to remove what remains of the tumour.

In all, the process could take more than a year.

Far from Christmas

As Edmonton's seasonal rush reaches a crescendo around them, Christmas is far from the minds of Dennis and Lorna.

"There won't be any tree or any hullabaloo like that," Dennis said. "It's nothing. It doesn't even mean anything to us. We've got other things on our plate."

Montana was among a group of children at the hospital that paramedics took out for a Christmas light viewing.

Since the family's sudden departure from Yellowknife on Oct. 20, Dennis has spent most of his days and nights at his son's side.

"I had less than 30 minutes to go home and get ready," said Dennis, a scoop operator at Giant Mine. "We had one carry-on bag for the three of us. That's all we had for two months."

The two were literally living at the hospital at the start of the ordeal. Now they are staying at one of the homes kept by the private company the government contracts to provide medical support for patients who go south for care.

Their story has touched the hearts of most of the people who hear it.

"We came down with nothing but you wouldn't know it. People -- cousins, other relatives, people in the hospital -- have given him all kinds of stuffed animals and toys."

Two weeks ago, Lorna's mother, Mene, arrived to offer her support. That allowed Dennis an opportunity to get back to Yellowknife to gather together winter clothes and other items from home the family had done without.

Tight finances

Before driving back to Edmonton, Dennis updated his bosses at Miramar on how things stood at the hospital. Right now he's on an extended leave of absence, relying on a benevolent fund Giant mine workers and Miramar contribute to. With only 40 workers remaining at Giant, the fund does not go far.

"The human resources fellow there is pretty good," said Dennis, referring to Scott Stringer.

"He said there's another program I'm entitled to for 15 weeks. So we'll see what'll happen after that."

A fund-raising drive by Canadian Auto Workers Local 2304, the union that represents Giant workers, and United Steelworkers of America Local 802 has raised about $2,000 in contributions from workers at the two mines.

Local 2304 plant chair Steve Petersen said the mine workers are giving generously but have almost been tapped out by a string of misfortunes that have recently befallen their co-workers.

"So we're expanding the call out to all of the unionized workers in the territories through the (NWT) Federation of Labour," Petersen said.

The CAW is also accepting donations from the wider community.

Call the CAW office at 873-5192 for more information.