"Mom, I got cancer for Christmas!"
It's hard not to have the air sucked out of me when I remember those words, even months later. Those words are a testament to my son Nick’s positive attitude and strength which brought him through a scary and surreal adventure.
It was the first day of Christmas vacation when the phone rang and life changed. Dr. Duncan, a plastic surgeon from CHEO, called and asked if I had a moment. That morning, I gave her a lifetime.
Earlier in November, 2010, Dr. Duncan had removed a small innocuous lump from my son Nick’s thumb. Nick is 12. Everybody had felt that it was nothing and I had actually forgotten that the results were a bit late in coming back. It turns out those results had gone on quite a journey to finally confirm "hands down" that it was an extremely rare form of cancer - epithelioid sarcoma.
During that phone call the morning of December 20, Dr. Duncan told us she felt we shouldn’t wait to do further testing and had a myriad of tests organized in two days time. We met with Nick’s plastic surgeon, an oncologist and a social worker. They were ready to help all of us through this and support us in many ways. We were provided with printed infomation to absorb later, including how to help Nick’s siblings understand this in age appropriate ways. The social worker gave us her number to deal with any emotional issues that may arise from this and told us of fieldcare workers that could help later with Nick’s school environment.
We were given a schedule of testing times for the day and smoothly went from CT scan, bone scan to a two and a half hour MRI. Nobody can tell me that the health care system failed my son that day. Every single person at CHEO treated us with kindness and was sincerely helpful.
The staff showed us how Nick could order whatever food he wanted from their menu, and if you’ve never had the fortune, or perhaps misfortune of needing their menu, it’s a kid’s paradise! CHEO thinks about children as people, not just as patients.
CHEO provides a safety net for so many kids. You never know when you are going to fall into it, but trust me when I tell you our family was caught and saved by it.
Thankfully all the testing on Nick came back negative, other than the original lump from his thumb. More detailed testing could be achieved through a PET scan, but that is difficult to get. But our oncologist, Dr. Johnston called our home December 24, after 4 o’clock to tell us that Nick would indeed be getting the scan once the other hospital’s department opened after Christmas. Did I mention Dr. Johnston called us Christmas Eve? CHEO staff sacrifice so much that is unseen. I feel compelled to tell Nick’s story to help you realize how much CHEO is needed here.
So many things led us to early detection and swift action with the cancer that was found. The January 5 scan came back clean, so surgery was planned for January 7, 2011 when Nick’s thumb was amputated at the top joint. Shortened, as Dr. Duncan prefers to say. Surgery and recovery went without complications. Nick was catered to and one nurse even loaned Nick his new iPod touch as we waited for the surgery, which was actually ahead of schedule.
Returning to CHEO after being at another hospital for tests it became apparent to me that CHEO is different. There is a feeling in the hospital, some positive force tied up in everything from decorations, staff and facilities for the kids. You should have seen Nick’s eyes light up when he saw the flight simulator and Xbox in the Medical Day Unit waiting room. CHEO doesn’t just help kids physically, they support them emotionally and even provide some rockin’ distractions!
Nick is entered into two clinical trials to follow his progression from the surgery. He will be monitored at CHEO through MRI’s and chest x-rays for years to come. Two oncologists have said that they do not expect to see cancer in him ever again. Nick was back at guitar lessons 10 days after his surgery and was beating me at badminton within the month. Kids are amazing. CHEO is amazing.
Lynn, Dave and Nick Dal Farra