An 11-year-old Red Deer County boy is getting ready for surgery as he continues a months-long battle against cancer.
About a week before Gavin Hilman was diagnosed in August 2020, he was having abdominal issues, distention and gastrointestinal problems. The family saw three different doctors before Gavin got an ultrasound.
“The radiologist told me in his office it was cancer,” said Gavin’s mother Amanda on Monday.
“It was quite obvious and quite serious. Within a few hours of leaving the radiologist’s office, we were sent to our (general practitioner) and then sent down to the children’s hospital right away.”
Gavin had Stage 4 tumours across his abdominal cavity, involving several organs and in his chest cavity, and lymph nodes. The cancer, Desmoplastic Small Round Cell Tumour, is so rare that only about 400 people have experienced it to date. The survival rate is only 15 to 35 per cent.
“It’s a super rare, super aggressive type of cancer. It’s not the news a mom or dad ever wants to hear,” Amanda said.
“When you have your small child – your little boy – going through these really big things, just not knowing what the outcome will be and where you’re going to end up is a lot to take in.”
Treatment, including chemo, blood transfusions and other testing, has had the family commuting back and forth to Calgary every few weeks for the past nine months.
Gavin has finished his chemotherapy through the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
While the cancer has responded better than doctors expected, it must be completely removed down to the smallest cell or it will grow back quickly.
Gavin’s entire family – mother Amanda, father Neil and brothers eight-year-old Hunter and four-year-old Wyatt – has been “awe-stuck by how well he’s done” through this journey, his mother said.
“The things he’s dealt with, the side effect of chemo, things that are painful, and gruelling, he’s handled them with grace,” she said.
“There are hard days, I’m not going to pretend it isn’t hard. He has struggles too – he’s human. He has anxieties, concerns, worries and fears like anyone would going into this.”
On June 1, Gavin will undergo a 12- to 18-hour surgery at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary to remove cancer from throughout his abdominal cavity. About a week to 10 days later, surgeons will conduct a separate surgery to get to a growing and cancerous lymph node above his diaphragm.
“Going towards surgery, we’re all kind of feeling the pressure of it. It’s such a big surgery and there are so many risks that come with that. But it’s our best chance to achieve a cure,” Amanda said.
Recovery can take anywhere from two weeks to two months and it will be followed with radiation treatment.
A GoFundMe page was launched to support the family: gofund.me/d1664638.
“It’s something that’s been needed. We’ve really had to humble ourselves to ask for that kind of help because asking for financial help is never easy,” said Amanda, adding the family’s grateful to everyone who has contributed.
“With the economy the way it is, the pandemic … and not knowing whether you’re going to be in Calgary on an emergency trip, it makes it very hard.”