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'You Don't Take Things For Granted, Ever'

Two-year-old Serenity, who’s nickname is Blueberry, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.
Rainie Bunn

Healthcare is very much in the news these days, mostly the political news. But we recently got a phone call from a Montana mom that reminds us what healthcare is really all about.

Her name is Rainie Bunn. She’s from Forsyth, and has three little girls; a set of twins and a two-year-old named Serenity, who’s nickname is Blueberry.

"In the end of October last year, Blueberry just woke up with a black eye one day," Bunn told me.

Not that unusual, but Bunn couldn’t remember her daughter bumping her head, and she started to get worried when the black eye wouldn’t go away. So she googled around and read that sometimes bruises linger because of a fracture.

"And I really didn’t think that was it," Bunn said, "because her other eye was bruising and the only other thing I was reading about was cancer."

To get that checked out, Bunn’s mom took Blueberry on the eight hour drive to Billings for some scans. And the news came back bad.

It was cancer.

"It tore me apart inside," Bunn said. "She’s two years old, and that’s all I could keep thinking. She’s lived a little over two years of her life.

She’s perfect in my eyes, and I just absolutely lost it, because I can’t imagine losing my child."

The cancer is a particularly tough kind, called neuroblastoma, and Blueberry faces some long odds and months of difficult treatments and procedures to beat it.

And her mom is only 21-years-old herself. Rainie Bunn turns 22 at the end of this month.

Her family is rallying to meet the challenge. They dropped everything and went to Salt Lake City for initial treatments, and are now living in Colorado, because, Bunn says, it’s closer to Blueberry’s comfort zone and they can get chemotherapy in Denver.

In June, they’re planning to go to New York for surgery by a top doctor.

Two-year-old Serenity, who’s nickname is Blueberry, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.
Credit Rainie Bunn
Two-year-old Serenity, who’s nickname is Blueberry, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma.

"It takes a village to fight cancer, it really does," Bunn says. "Because cancer does things to not only the person who has it, but the people who love them that you would not imagine." 

Bunn and her kids have health coverage through Montana Medicaid. She was working as a nanny up until Blueberry was born, and was planning on pursuing a career as a realtor up until her daughter’s diagnosis.

Bunn says she can’t imagine where she’d be without Medicaid:

"I wouldn’t be able to afford to pay those medical bills ever, and take care of three children," Bunn said. "I would be bankrupt at the age of 22. I would go nowhere in my life. By the end of Serenity’s treatment I would be hundreds of thousands of dollars bankrupt."

But there are a lot of bills Medicaid doesn’t pay, Bunn says, including for some medications and supplements her daughter needs to survive. Not to mention the expense of her being out of work and having to move two states away for her daughter’s treatment. She says her parents are helping to support her, and her brother dropped out of his GED program and put plans to enroll in the military on hold to help out. And lots of other people are helping, too.

"My mother contacted her friend in Boston, and Chanel started a GoFundMe page. And in February and March we raised almost ten grand, not quite ten grand," Bunn said.

Fundraiser flyer for Blueberry.
Fundraiser flyer for Blueberry.

Friends of the family in Sidney are also organizing a pig raffle and a heifer auction, and Bunn says local businesses in Sidney are donating for a couple of gift baskets to be raffled, too.

Rainie Bunn’s life changed dramatically in October when she noticed her two year old daughter had a black eye, and when she learned that it was caused by a tumor. The 21-year-old single mother of three offers this advice:

"Montana people need to remember that you don’t take things for granted, ever. Not another person, not anything life, because it could all just be taken away within just a few seconds."

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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