Updated January 10,2019
The Story: “Stronger than Cancer”. Erica Kuneki, a young Native American girl currently 18 years old, is fighting Osteosarcoma, bone cancer. A few months ago when it seemed like the cancer was doing better, it jumped to soft tissue and new tumors showed up. More rounds of chemo and radiation nearly killed her, and she took a long rest from treatment. Recently, however, inflammation showed up in her bones again and she became very ill. They opted to do a weeks worth of radiation therapy. Now, As of the fourth day of radiation she started feeling quite a bit better so we are feeling hopeful again. In fact, she sounded remarkably energetic over the phone tonight, laughing at a funny movie.
Unfortunately, while at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital at OHSU in Portland this week, someone broke into Elsa Spence’s car in the parking garage. The girls had just gotten there and were already stressed and accidentally left Erica’s wallet in the car. She had all her Christmas gift money in the wallet, so it was a mighty big blow emotionally.
Erica had saved up her money for a trip to New Jersey that will be provided by the Make a Wish Foundation. She wanted to be able to buy souvenirs or special treats. All of her money was taken and the wallet was left laying somewhere on hospital grounds. Someone turned it in to the security.
Elsa made this Facebook live video:
I keep dreaming that someone with a little extra money would help sponsor this local Native American girl, whose family lived in the valley for many generations fishing on the river. While theoretically the tribe helps people in situations like this, the truth is people this far away from the reservation often slip through the cracks.
DONATIONS: There are now several options for helping financially.
To help Erica with money for to spend when she gets her trip from The Make-A-Wish foundation, her mother set up a New GoFundMe account:
Also, a Facebook fundraiser was set up here to help the family:
Or, Checks made out to Elsa Spence can be dropped off or mailed to Umpqua Bank.
“Stronger than Cancer”
Donations For Erica Kuneki
PO Box 67
White Salmon, WA
You can contact Elsa Spence via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or send cards or checks to Elsa and and Erica:
Elsa Spence and Erica Kuneki
PO Box 778
Or if you see them around town feel free to say hello and tell them you have been following their story on here! Maybe slip Elsa a few $$ for gas.
It takes a whole Village to raise a Child. We are asking for your help with a particular child/ young woman and her family’s needs. Be the Village 😉 😀 A huge thank you to various people who have helped in the past with donations!
Original post May 2017
I would like to tell you a story about a girl named Erica Kuneki. She’s a very special girl, one that has always watched out for others. And she LOVES the SEAHAWKS! More on that soon ❤️😀. Erica and her parents are from the Klickitat tribe, part of the Yakama Nation. Their family is from the Husum, WA area, and her grandmother Elsie Thomas used to make the traditional split cedar root huckleberry baskets that are so prized in museums now.
Erica at her 8th grade graduation
Erica with her uncle
Erica at school
And in Drama, she was in a play in Hood river.
Last November, 2016, Erica started having severe pain in one leg. She was very athletic, involved in several sports. After much testing, she was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, A cancerous tumor in the bone below the knee. She was very quickly started on aggressive chemotherapy, which took a toll on her body. Often very nauseous, she lost weight and had a very tough time keeping up in school. With the help of teachers at the Cancer Hospital in Portland, she kept up with her schoolwork as best she could. Early this year, they did a total knee replacement including a length of bone from the leg below the knee. For a while there was a break from chemo while she recovered from surgery, and during that time Erica was able to go back to school here in White Salmon. One of her coaches was very supportive, as he himself was a cancer survivor, and when Erica returned to school he and the team honored Erica in an assembly, making her an honorary team leader.
Erica with her Coach Don
Recently chemo started back up again, along with the struggle to keep eating and hold food down. Occasionally the weekly hospital stay lasts longer when her body isn’t ready to get up and go home. Chemotherapy will likely continue up to a year total, perhaps less if all goes well.
Mom and Daughter at sports event
Through this whole experience her amazing mother Elsa Spence has been right by her side most of the time, and if she has to be working then generally Erica’s father Leon Kuneki spends the time with his daughter at the hospital. They never leave her in Portland at the hospital alone.
Dad and Daughter times
Elsa is a caregiver by trade, working for Klickitat County Seniors. She helped take care of my sister Nora for several years. Her boss Norma Pickett has been so good with her, scheduling work around Erica’s medical appointments, as much as possible. Norma also helped run a fundraiser to get Elsa a working car after her old one broke down. Various bills are still a struggle, between lost work hours and the long drives to Portland. Elsa is the primary wage earner of the household, and I know from personal experience that caregiving in rural areas is a low paying job.
Through all the struggles with cancer, these Gals have done an amazing job of keeping their chin up and moving forward with a positive attitude.
Erica has frequently cheered up and encouraged others in the cancer ward and at home. Erica has a wise old soul, while also young and silly. She and her mom laugh together over so many things, and their laughter is contagious.
At the same time, both of them can be very serious, have a great deal of respect for their elders, and often reach out to help others. Both Elsa and Erica are very empathic, often sensing when those around them are troubled or in pain. Recently, A young patient at the cancer center passed away in a nearby room. The mother’s cries of loss carried through several wings, and Erica left her own room to go out and give hugs to the family. She brought them tissues and encouragement.
A year earlier, after I had lost my own sister, Erica would often stop by my house after school to check on me and make me laugh.
She never fails to brighten my day when I see her. Tonight i was on the phone with Elsa, and I could hear Erica in the background making us both crack up with laughter, and she had just come home from the hospital after more chemo.
Recently on two separate occasions, Elsa and Erica ran into KGW Channel 8 newscasters out on a mission. They talked each of the reporters into a photo, never even mentioning the cancer to the reporters!
Erica is really rocking all this!
TO THE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: One thing that Erica is sad about is that no one has invited her to her senior prom which is June 2, at 8:00 pm. . Her cousin Shaneeta Bly came up with the idea of trying to reach out to the Seahawks, especially to Erica’s favorite player Earl Thomas, to see if he or any of the team would be willing to help fulfill the dream of a cancer patient. Erica just turned 18, and will hopefully be graduating soon from Columbia High School where she has participated in several sports including her personal favorite, basketball. She and her family are long time hard core Seahawks fans, with the Seahawk emblem painted on her father‘s truck and several birthday cakes that have had the Seahawks written on the cake.
Dad and Daughter, on Erica’s 18th birthday in April. There was no money or energy for a birthday party this year, but great hopes and plans to save money and have a combined birthday/ graduation/ end of chemo party in a few months.
Seahawks thru and thru!
Any acknowledgement from the SEATTLE SEAHAWKS team would be bound to uplift Erica and her family unimaginably, and an actual escort to prom, especially from Earl Thomas, would bring over the top joy for Erica. She also loves wrestling, her favorite wrestler is Dean Ambomore, and her favorite singer is Lil Pimp.
Please share this and help bring joy to this amazing young lady and her family!
“Stronger than Cancer”UPDATE 5/10/18: Last night Erica and her mother were interviewed for KGW Channel 8 by Christine Pitawanich/KGW. The interview was aired on the late evening news. Meanwhile on another front, our local Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce executive director had emailed her connection with the Seahawks, Mike Flood. Mike replied saying they can’t really send a player out to take Erica to prom, but he is offering some other perks such as some tickets to a game. He is also coming this way later this month for other business and plans to bring Erica some official Seahawks swag.
And then to make it even more fun, Elsa realized that Mike was the same person that saw her sitting in Leon’s truck that has a Seahawks logo, two years ago, and gave her the blue towel that Erica was holding in the video interview. It is a small world!
News Story from KGW channel 8 aired late evening on 5/09/2018, following interview with Christine Pitawanich/KGW.
Above: Christine Pitawanich/KGW and Erica Kuneki
Update 5/22/18: Erica was thrilled to get a visit from a Seahawk rep who came to her home and brought a bunch of Seahawk swag. He was so touched by her story and by seeing the huge scar from the knee and leg bone replacement that he cried and gave her a big hug. Now that is a real man, in my opinion!
❤️ Prom pictures! June 2017
❤️ Graduation photo June 2017
MUCH THANKS to any an all who contribute to this lifesaving operation!!
Here are the rest of the updates, oldest first:
Update 6/08/18. Erica had another unexpected trip to the hospital this week due to a fever. She is ok and home again and her mother Elsa says to tell everyone how grateful she is for the donations that have been made to the bank account. She had no gas money but there was money in the account and she was able to fill up and make the trip to the hospital.
For those following the story of my adopted niece ⭐️Erica Kuneki ⭐️, who is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer: A huge thank you to various people who have already helped with the money donations at the bank and paid the water bill!! Thanks to you Erica had a cap and gown for High School graduation. Elsa was able to buy her Protein powder to help her with weight from chem. She was also able to get a new “hair” in time to use it for prom and graduation. You can’t begin to know what a relief all of that was for Erica and her mother! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
Erica was able to go to prom and dance with her friends, although none of the Seahawks were able to actually come and go with her due to scheduling conflicts. Nevertheless the Seahawks honored her with a visit and phone call. We didn’t really expect they would be able to come for prom but it was fun to ask, and as a result of asking they have chosen to honor her in other ways! Erica and her Family have been given tickets to a Seahawks game August 9, where they will honor Erica by giving her a complete tour. There was hint of another surprise as well 🙂. I think I mentioned earlier that the family received a visit from someone in marketing, who brought her all kinds of Seahawks swag to add to her collection. In spite of not having her date for prom she went anyway, with her family, and had fun. After being so sick for so long from the cancer and the chemo, it warms the heart to see her looking healthier and happy. She was also able to walk with her class at the Graduation, and there will be another post about that.
8/08/2018 new Update on
“Stronger than Cancer”
Erica is heading to Seattle with her family to see the Seahawks game, With tickets and a hotel room complements of the Seahawks as well.
🌈🌹 Erica Kuneki is doing pretty good, still getting through her chemo treatments. Recently she had a fall however that gave her a spiral fracture in her back bone. It’s not too bad as long as she’s careful and she still able to get around. She’ll need to wear a brace for sitting or walking long time.
August 10, 2018
I dream of finding some wonderful person who likes to donate regularly to charity who would take this Native American family on and sponsor them for a while until this cancer stuff is cleared up. Erica has bone cancer. They need some help badly with gas, food and utility bills. I will add more info in comments. Erica is at Chemo today, and her mom Elsa needs gas money.
Erica was honored last week by the Seattle Seahawks. She and her family were given tickets and a hotel room so they could go see the preseason game last Friday! Oh my gosh that perked This young lady up so much.
New Erica Kuneki update August 2018, the prayers helped! THANK YOU!!! The good news Is that the bone scan did not light her up like a Christmas tree. It only does that when there’s active cancer in the bones, so things are looking good right now! They’re going to stop chemo, and give her time to get strong again and build her platelets back up.
The bad news is that the compression fracture in her back may have damaged a disk. There’s also a mystery spot they have some concerns about, near the spine. So we’re not celebrating yet but happy the bone cancer look good.
Keep the prayers coming, there will be many more Visits to Portland coming up to research this new mystery. Erica has been such a trooper through all this!
UPDATE October 9, 2018
Erica has more tumors, and after going through a strong focused Chemo and radiation treatment last week she is back in the hospital in Portland. A high fever and low platelet count knocked her flat for the moment, and her mom Elsa is not leaving her side much.
A Native brother has brought me fresh meat and fish from the forest, so i can make soup to take the girls at the hospital. Many prayers are being said by people all over for this brave young Native American girl, barely a woman.
Erica and her family had a good holiday season, with improved health. She stayed home through the winter to enjoy life and try to build up her strength. As appetite improved, this brave young woman gained some strength back, and was able to do some limited activities.
Most recent update at top of post.