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Life of a normal boy: Chinook 12-year old Wacee Simenson honored at Big Sky Pro Rodeo for conquering cancer

Posted at 12:37 PM, Aug 11, 2023
and last updated 2024-02-19 12:43:00-05

GREAT FALLS — It’s the final night of the Big Sky Pro Rodeo and the Simenson family has been lured out of Chinook to enjoy an awesome display of cowboy action, but they have no idea they are about to put tears in the eyes of a sold-out crowd.

Following the tie down roping competition, the Simensons were told that someone wanted to give them a ride on a wagon but they didn’t know why. Twelve-year-old Wacee Simenson began to suspect that something was up but he couldn’t figure out what it was.

The family went to hop onto the wagon and meet with Lorell Heckman, confirming their gut feeling that something big was going on.

But let’s backtrack before we get inside the arena.

When Wacee Simenson was 7, he was diagnosed with t-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma after doctors found a football sized mass in his chest.

“You hear of these things happening but you never think you’re going to be the one in it,” said Wacee’s mother, Tomi Simenson. “When you’re watching your little boy lay in the hospital bed and you’re hearing the word ‘cancer’ and things like that … it was pretty emotional, pretty heartbreaking.”

“I guess when he kept asking the question ‘why me?’ (that) was probably the toughest thing for me,” said his father, Justin. “You always assume the worst in those situations.”

Wacee was hospitalized and put through multiple different stages of chemotherapy while his childhood was slowly passing him by.

“Staying in the hospital bed all the time, not acting like a normal boy would … was just hard to keep up with,” said Wacee. “I couldn’t do anything, I was so tired everyday. I really couldn’t do anything. Just stayed in bed, walked, and that was really it.”

Wacee’s chemotherapy treatments were nearing the end until a prescribed pill became so toxic for him that it set them back nearly to the beginning of the diagnosis. After about two and a half weeks of taking the pill, Wacee began to feel not so well, and they later discovered that the pill shut down his liver and caused him to return to the ICU for two weeks.

“To be so close and to have that type of setback was tough. And it was hard to stay positive and optimistic though that when you know you’re just that close. At one point they were saying possible death because of how severe the liver was in rally bad shape,” Tomi shared.

But through it all Wacee kept fighting, and nearly three years after the initial diagnosis, he had beaten cancer and returned to living the life of a normal boy.

“Play football, do sports, rough house, play hard, show my cattle, and do work,” said Wacee.

Three years after officially beating cancer, Wacee and his family found themselves being pulled into a sold out arena at the Big Sky Pro Rodeo as a video began to play on the big screen. Photos of Wacee’s journey were displayed while his story was narrated for everyone to hear and cheer him on.

At the conclusion of the video Wacee was presented the Rocky’s Road Continues award, which is given to those who represent perseverance, character, and hope.

The award is named after Lorell Heckman's late husband Rocky, well-known rodeo figure who passed away in 2017 following a two-year fight with brain cancer.