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'Gonna be all right': Lyrics help New England family handle son’s ailment

Dennis Stangle's family purchased motivational shirts reading, "Every little thing is gonna be alright" in preparation for Dennis' surgery Friday morning. From left to right: his older sister Jade Stangle, his mom Desirae Stangle, Dennis, his dad Shane Stangle and his brother Skylar Stangle. Photo courtesy of Desirae Stangle

NEW ENGLAND—The family of New England eighth-grader Dennis Stangle loves to sing together, usually in the car where all five of them sing at the top of their lungs, belting out some of their favorites.

One of their family mottos comes from Bob Marley's song "Three Little Birds" — every little thing is gonna be all right.

That motto is now helping the Stangles through a difficult period.

Dennis, the family's middle child, is undergoing surgery Friday morning to remove a mass from the left side of his head just above his temple.

"We have a lot of ifs, ands, and we don't knows," said Desirae Stangle, Dennis' mother.

In December, Dennis came to his mom complaining about a bump on his head, she said. Desirae did not think much of it—a teenage boy who must have hit his head. She gave him an ice pack and did not think about the incident again.

About a month ago, he came to his mother again saying he did not feel well and the bump on his head hurt. Desirae had forgotten about the bump and was shocked to see he still had one, she said. When Dennis moves his hair, the lump is visible and looks like the top of an egg. She immediately panicked — Dennis has other health problems including thyroid issues and attention deficit hyperactive disorder, so she tends to worry even more about troubles relating to him.

She called his doctor, who was able to see her son immediately. He said the mass could be a calcification and instructed her to put heat on it and monitor it for two weeks. If there was no change, they would schedule an MRI.

She called back within the two-week period asking for an MRI after there was no change. On April 13, Dennis had a non-contrast MRI followed by a contrast MRI. About four hours after they went home, the doctor called Desirae with the results saying that he believed Dennis had either a mass or a lesion in his skull which had a strong possibility of being cancerous.

"When they first called us, it sounded like they were just going to drill a hole and take a piece of it out, but because it's pushing on the brain they want to take the whole thing out," Desirae said.

The doctor informed her that nothing could be determined without a biopsy and got her in touch with a neurologist in Fargo. On Wednesday, the family of five along with their grandparents headed off to Fargo for the impending surgery.

Despite the circumstances, Dennis has remained his usual upbeat and jokester self, she said.

"Dennis is funny. He likes to make jokes," Desirae said. "Even with this situation ... we did tell him what the possibilities could be. We just said, 'Buddy, you know, you have a bump on your head, they don't know what it is, they're going to have to take a piece of it out to see what it is.' ... He said, 'Well, Dad has a drill in the garage, can't he just do it out there?' He's comical."

His doctor in Fargo told the family Thursday morning that, though she has not ruled out cancer, she is leaning away from that diagnosis. On Friday morning, Dennis will have surgery to remove the mass at Sanford Children's Hospital in Fargo. His doctor told his parents that she thinks it is an isolated mass and is confident they will be able to remove it entirely.

"I'm not as freaked out today as I was. But I just need to have this biopsy come back and know. Why is it in there? How did it get there? And is it going to continue to come back?" Desirae said Thursday. "I'm just hoping even with this mass that maybe some of the things that he has already dealt with in the past might be related to this mass."

The doctors might have to remove some of the bone around the mass as well and replace it with a bone filler, she said. Dennis will then return two weeks later to get his stitches removed, at which time he and his family should receive the biopsy results, if not sooner. If the doctors find that the mass could reoccur, he may have to undergo chemotherapy treatments.

But his family is prepared to keep him in the best of spirits before he goes into surgery. Desirae and her 16-year-old daughter Jade Stangle bought about 25 shirts with the motto, "Every little thing is gonna be all right." The family wore the shirts on Easter, and they all will wear them Friday at the hospital to cheer on Dennis.

"It's something we sang before this even happened," his mom said. "... Hopefully they will take it out and everything will be all right. ... We just have a strong, loving family and no matter where this goes we're going to make it through this."

Helping hand

In addition to the worry and stress the family has endured the last several weeks, the mass has taken an untimely financial toll on the family as well — with the potential for additional expenses down the line. Their car broke down on the way to Fargo on Wednesday and is still in Jamestown as a result.

The family turned to family, friends and the New England community for help and support.

"Nobody deserves to have a child get sick and end up in the hospital and stuff like that," said Shane Stangle, Dennis' father. "We really appreciate any help that anybody is willing to send our way. We've had a bad couple weeks on top of Dennis' mass—we just had all sorts of stuff going on. It was definitely a feat to get down here. (Wednesday) wasn't very good either."

Shane appreciates all the help and support his family has received the last few weeks, he said, pointing out the gas gift cards and other support provided by the Cabin Fever Benefit and Ronald McDonald House.

The family arranged a fund through the American Bank Center for Dennis where people can make donations if they choose. The fund is called the Dennis Stangle Benefit and can be accessed at any American Bank Center location. Checks or cash can be dropped off to the bank centers, including in a night drop box, and should be labeled "Dennis Stangle Benefit." Payments by card will need to be made in-person at the locations.

His mom is also asking for get-well and encouraging cards for her son. Such cards and other donations may be mailed to the family's address at 424 7th St. East New England, N.D. 58647.

Students at New England School, from preschool through high school, made get well cards and wrote hopeful messages for Dennis this week as well, said Superintendent Kelly Koppinger.

"We're thinking about him, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family, and we hope that everything goes well (Friday) and hope to see him soon," Koppinger said. "Nobody should be having to battle what he is going through, but I think Dennis has got the type of personality that I think will overcome this, and hopefully it doesn't keep him down for long."

Dennis' grandmother picked up the cards and drove them to Fargo, so the family can give them to him when he comes out of surgery.

"Dennis is a bigger boy. He's spent a lot of time getting teased and bullied," his mom said. "I just want him to know that he's very important and cared about."

In the meantime, the shy boy with an incredible singing voice has the support of dozens of family members and friends all clad in shirts displaying the motto dear to him.

Don't worry about a thing

'Cause every little thing gonna be all right

Singing' don't worry about a thing

'Cause every little thing gonna be all right