Meyers family pays it forward with St. Baldrick’s Foundation |

Meyers family pays it forward with St. Baldrick’s Foundation

Joe Proudman
Joe Proudman / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Jen Drennan was pregnant with her second child. Being a CALSTAR nurse, the wife of a South Tahoe firefighter took all the steps to make sure her baby was healthy while she was pregnant. She did all the ultrasounds, even those 3D ones, but nothing she could have done would prevent the inconceivable events of the first nine months of her baby Caitlyn’s life.

With a due date in December 2010, Drennan was alarmed to have labor pains and bleeding in August. It prompted a 4 a.m. visit to the emergency room, where she was rushed into emergency surgery for a Caesarian section.

“That was pretty traumatic at the time,” she said sarcastically.

When Caitlyn was born her father, Jim Drennan, said she came out looking healthy. But he said that when the doctor took her to the nursery, things changed.

“He turned his back, turned back to her and kind of gasped, and said ‘Whoa.’ Looked at her belly, her belly was super distended, really swollen,” he said. “At that point everything kind of turns into a blur, because, as we found out later, the doctors had a pretty good idea that there was something very wrong. They had even guessed inwardly without saying anything to us that it could be tumor-ish.”

From there, Caitlyn was rushed to Sacramento. Her father hitched a ride from a buddy because he “wasn’t in any state to drive.”

“I was all over the map. It was emotional because I wasn’t sure what was going on. And I really had no idea what I was getting into, and what we were getting into,” he said.

Jen Drennan had to stay at Barton Memorial Hospital to recover from her surgery for three days. By the time she got to Caitlyn on Friday, the three-day-old baby was in a surgery of her own.

“So born on Wednesday the 25th, in surgery by Friday the 27th. By that evening on Friday she was in her first round of chemotherapy after recovering from major abdominal exploratory surgery,” Jim Drennan said.

Caitlyn was diagnosed with stage four Neuroblastoma, that at the time of birth, was spread throughout her body.

“It’s into almost every organ in her abdominal cavity, including the spine. So it’s displaced her kidneys, it’s into her bladder, it’s into her liver and spleen, it’s stretched her uterus and it’s coming out of her spine. And on top of that it’s so massive it’s bumping up against her diaphragm, it’s making it hard for her to breath,” Jim Drennan said. “Her birth weight was 7.6 pounds and they discovered later that two pounds of that was tumors.”

The Drennans were not only fighting for the life of their daughter, but they were doing it away from their Meyers’ home, work and friends. The couple lived in Lot B of Sutter Memorial Hospital the first month of Caitlyn’s stay, in a trailer a family friend let them borrow.

“By far the nicest camping I’ve ever done,” Jim Drennan said jokingly. “The nice part of the trailer, was that it was really kind of our own space to be alone and you didn’t have to worry about sitting in a communal kitchen or communal living room where whoever would be walking in.”

Eventually the family was able to rent a house just two blocks from the hospital. Jen Drennan’s mother moved in to help with their, at the time, 2-year-old son, Cameron. They now had a mortgage on their house in Meyers, and rent on their house in Sacramento, plus all the bills that go along with them. But they found help.

The Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation stepped in to alleviate some of the burden.

“It might be different now, but last year Northern Nevada (Children’s Cancer Foundation) right off the bat they donated $4,400 immediately. Four hundred dollars of that was Walmart cards and gas cards, and $4,000 of bill pay,” Jim Drennan said. “Without their moral support, financial support, et cetera, we would have gone deep, deep into debt.”

Finding normalcy

At first impression, Caitlyn looks and sounds like a normal 18-month-old child. She is vocal, not very shy and crawls all over her living room. She can blow kisses when asked and loves playing with her older brother. But there are some lingering effects of the cancer.

Somewhere past her knees, she loses feeling and control in her legs, resulting in her feet sitting limp. She has some hearing loss, which will effect her speech. She goes to physical therapy, and her parents often work with her at home with braces on her legs. They’re unsure if she’ll ever be able to walk or if she’ll be an Olympic runner. Her future is still undetermined, instead of her having no future. And because of that, the Drennan’s said they want to “pay it forward.”

On March 9, Caitlyn and her family will be at the South Tahoe Ice Arena for the St. Baldrick’s event to raise funds for cancer research. She’ll be joining fellow South Lake Tahoe Neuroblastoma survivor, Bailey Johnson, at the fundraiser where various people will shave their heads after collecting donations prior.

Jen Drennan has formed her own CALSTAR team, in which most of the male nurses have volunteered. Jim Drennan has a team of firefighters going, creating competition in the name of raising funds for childhood cancer research.

“What we can pay forward to the Northern Nevada Children’s (Foundation) and St. Baldrick’s, or whatever, we were so eternally grateful for that money and that support we got, we want to make sure that you know families in the future, that God forbid your child has cancer, has those supports and that it does keep going,” Jen Drennan said.

If you are interested in shaving your head at the St. Baldrick’s event at the South Tahoe Ice Arena, you can go to and search for the South Lake Tahoe event for more information. Be sure to register as soon as possible, and that you will be able to raise at least $50. The goal for the South Tahoe event is to raise $10,000, and they are halfway there as of Thursday night.

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