No fewer than 14 pairs of shoes line the staircase leading to Ellaray Lewis’ bedroom.
Upstairs, the blue-painted room itself is further testament to the South Surrey girl’s personality – bright, busy, creative and full of life.
Less obvious from her surroundings – but likely not news to those who’ve gotten to know the 12-year-old over the past decade – is that she’s also matter-of-fact about the health challenges she has faced her entire life.
“Here’s what they look like in my back,” the Grade 6 student says, showing an X-ray image that depicts the pair of steel rods doctors inserted, following a diagnosis of scoliosis.
“I got held back a year for operations, but that’s OK. I find it really special and unique. It doesn’t happen to everybody, all the operations.
“I find it really cool that I got (hospital treatment number) 62 coming up. It’s only three days in hospital – I’m so excited.”
Ellaray’s story first captured hearts around the Semiahmoo Peninsula in May 2008, after Peace Arch News shared the then-toddler’s journey. She started life battling a rare condition that developed into an aggressive skin cancer, and to this day, hasn’t stopped fighting it.
Scoliosis – a curvature of the spine – was added to the mix in 2013.
Stories about Ellaray over the years have detailed extensively the medical side of things – an expansive list that includes dozens of skin grafts, getting expansion bags implanted under her skin to grow new skin and spending months in a body cast.
Last week, her dad Craig told PAN about three months that Ellaray spent in hospital three years ago, to prepare for the rods in her back. He described a “halo” bolted to her skull and a 25-pound weight pulling her upward for 23 hours a day.
“There’s a line that goes up and a weight off the side of your bed, off the side of your wheelchair, off the side of your walker – whatever you have,” he said.
“So even if she laid on a bed, it was dragging her. That’s what was able to let her have the rods put in, because they couldn’t even get rods in her body ’cause it’s such a pitch. It’s like a zigzag. Nowadays, that’s almost come right out.
“It’s still all twisted, but the doctors are watching just a miracle before their eyes. Every 120 days they take an X-ray and they do their treatment and they’re like, wow.”
With more operations on the horizon – to replace the rods and then return a focus to eliminating what remains of the skin cancer – one might expect Ellaray to be far from glowing at the thought.
And while that may be the case from time to time – “Some days it hurts a bit, so I just lie down,” Ellaray said – Craig says his daughter has always faced her battles head-on and with an attitude that inspires.
Help along the way, including efforts to both brighten Ellaray’s life and ease the financial stress of the journey for Craig, has made a world of difference, the father said.
The volume of heartwarming support shown the family is such that Craig could spend hours, at least, naming people and groups who have stepped up to lend a hand over the years – former schoolmates organizing fundraisers; complete strangers arriving at their door with donations; magical memories created for his daughter; and those who simply want to offer friendship.
“What a town we have that helped me out,” Craig said, describing the collective community as his and Ellaray’s family.
“I’ve got so many thank yous out there for people that got us through, years ago.
“They paved a beautiful road instead of this craziness that I would’ve gone through. It’s unreal to see the world of support you get within a community that you’d never know.”
The certified journeyman jeweller who started his own fishing charter business in 1986, creating jewelry in his parents’ Crescent Beach studio during the off-season, has focused all his energies on Ellaray since the day she entered his life – “just my girl, that’s it,” he said.
He’s been meticulous in documenting Ellaray’s life. News articles, photos and artwork plaster an entranceway wall, Ellaray’s bedroom and sundry other areas of the townhouse they call home. Craig has lost official count of the photographs taken, but said a few years back, the total edged past the 25,000 mark.
Ellaray told PAN she’s yet to meet a kid who’s travelled a path similar to hers.
“But that’s OK, ’cause that’s what makes me kinda special,” she said, acknowledging the road ahead for her is not obstacle-free.
“Why give up now?”