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Community benefit to support mother of nine's cancer battle

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Rhealene Cook-Wilkinson’s life changed drastically this past year. After experiencing severe stomachaches, she was diagnosed with stomach cancer in October of 2017. Doctors originally thought the pain was due to complications from childbirth after she delivered her last child that same year.

She was working and caring for her nine children when the pain became unbearable. Her sister Katrina Baltz said the doctors didn’t see any cancer when Cook-Wilkinson delivered the baby by cesarean section. The cancer didn’t show up in blood work either. “It quickly developed after she had the baby,” Baltz said. “She was only 31 when she was diagnosed, and the doctors said it was rare for someone to have that kind of cancer at that age, but we do have a family history of cancer.”

Cook-Wilkinson continued to work at Mission Mountain Enterprises, helping people with developmental disabilities, while she received treatment, until she got too sick about a month ago. “She isn’t giving up,” her sister said. “When she was told she had cancer, she said she was going to fight it for her kids. They are saying it’s incurable, but we are fighting it.”

Rhealene was recently put in the hospital in Missoula in comfort care. Her children are able to visit her: Ayden, 15; Aryia, 14; Andrew, 11; Christian, 9; Talaina, 7; Tyler, 6; Austin, 4; Sean, 2; and Savanna, 1. The kids are being cared for by family, her husband, Sean Wilkinson, and her ex-husband Vick Dentler. “She married her spouse, Sean, while she was in the hospital,” Baltz said. “They have been wanting to get married for two years now, and decided now was the time.”

Baltz and other volunteers are organizing a benefit to help the family with the cost of transportation and the loss of income. The event will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6, at the Valley Club in Ronan (407 Third Ave. NW). 

She is calling the event “Pasta with a Purpose.” Tickets are $10 per adult and are available at the door. The meal starts at 4 p.m. Children 12 years and younger eat free. The event also includes a silent auction that starts at 3 p.m. To donate auction items, contact Natasha Hakes at 406-210-2342 or Darlene Beeks at 406-314-0491. A GoFundMe page was set up at www.gofundme.com/rhealene-cook.

“She could really use help with transportation for the kids,” Baltz said. “The family is having a lot of car problems trying to get a vehicle that can transport them all.”

Baltz has been a Lake County 911 Dispatcher for six years, and she said her friends at work are also reaching out to help her sister. “Everything about this feels like a dream like it’s not real,” she said. “She shouldn’t have this cancer, but it happened, so her friends and family are doing what they can to help. She has always had such a loving heart, and we want to help her.”

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