BURLINGTON - At the kitchen table in his Burlington home, Shaymus Guinn creates his own world.
From the billowy clouds in the sky above, to the rocky shores below and the lone seagull floating on the horizon, 9-year-old Shaymus delights in creation. As he paints a new landscape, Shaymus finds great joy in discovering things, a new blue pastel paint, a new brush stroke.
His artwork hangs throughout the house and is piling up in a portfolio he'll eagerly share if asked to - there's a colorful macaw, a tropical bromeliad, fish, a lizard and a frog.
While he creates worlds bursting with vibrant colors, Shaymus is fighting a dark battle with a rare form of cancer.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Shaymus worked on learning new painting techniques with an art teacher who comes to his house.
Earlier in the day, doctors at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa blasted Shaymus' upper left thigh with a powerful dose of radiation in an effort to destroy the cancerous tumor growing inside his femur.
‘Your worst nightmare'
It's been almost two years since Shaymus and his parents first learned that he had cancer, Ewing's sarcoma to be exact. It's a rare form of bone cancer that often strikes young people, but not often as young as Shaymus.
The family was starting to settle in to their new life in Macomb, Ill., where Tony, a Racine native and St. Catherine's High School graduate, had taken a job as the head coach of the women's soccer team at Western Illinois University. Shaymus' mother, Karla, a Raymond native and Union Grove High School graduate, was working at an environmental outreach program for the state of Illinois.
Shaymus was his happy-go-lucky self, just as he'd always been.
His parents first noticed something was wrong as their only child limped on the soccer field. His father said Shaymus never complained that the lump below his right knee caused him any pain. His father knew something wasn't right though, judging by his son's awkward gait.
The day before Thanksgiving in 2008, the Guinns took Shaymus to the urgent care clinic in Racine when they were home visiting family. They thought an X-ray might confirm the lump was a fracture, but nothing serious. Their minds could never conjure up the worst.
When the doctor wanted to rush Shaymus in for an immediate MRI, they knew it wasn't good. A doctor at Children's Hospital in Milwaukee told the Guinns that their 7-year-old son likely had cancer, but would need a biopsy to confirm.
Doctors at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital determined that Shaymus had Ewing's sarcoma and that it had spread to 11 other sites throughout his body, his father said. Shaymus started chemotherapy and radiation treatments immediately.
The family moved back to southeastern Wisconsin last year to be closer to family when doctors told them Shaymus would need a stem cell transplant.
After undergoing the torturous surgery last year, the Guinns hoped for the best - that the surgery had rid Shaymus' body of any cancerous cells. During a routine three-month checkup this past March, the Guinns noticed a brightly colored mass on Shaymus' bone scan. On March 11, the Guinns had to tell their son that his cancer had returned.
"It's your worst nightmare. It changes your whole perspective on life. Sometimes it makes you very angry," Tony Guinn, 43, said. "It's ridiculous. It's the most brutal thing I've ever had to be part of in my entire life. When you don't have control, it's the hardest thing."
Shaymus, now a third-grader at Waller Elementary School, says he started drawing around the age of one, mostly stick figures. Art has developed into a passion that his parents have encouraged.
Shaymus' creations, sometimes fanciful, fill sketchbooks. It's been a gift for someone who has spent a large part of the past two years confined to a hospital bed for long periods of time.
When he was too sick to leave his bed, he would draw.
"I just think that that was what got him through all of those hospital stays was to just take pen, pencil, crayons, whatever and grab a piece of paper and start going to another world," Karla, 42, said. "It's just indescribable how it's helped him."