Our Hero: Evan

My name is Kim Nickle and I’d like to introduce you to my son, Evan. He is 8 years old and is a cancer survivor.

Please let me tell you how we got here today…

It was November 2007- Evan was 3 years old when I took him to the family pediatrician for what appeared to be nothing more than a nasty tummy ache for several days. After a quick examination, he was referred to Crozer Hospital for a CAT scan. Obviously, more serious than a tummy ache-maybe his appendix needed to be taken out? That was as far as our thoughts went.

A few hours later, doctors , with their “serious faces” on, told us that we needed to take Evan to A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital-the Oncology Department-and to do so immediately. They would not say anything more or speculate further. They didn’t need to. The word “oncology” pretty much spoke for itself.

After some more scans and tests, the doctors quickly confirmed our worst fears and leveled us with the diagnosis. It was cancer-Rhabdomyocarcoma, to be precise, a tumor-based cancer. A tumor in his abdomen attached to his large intestine and had ruptured.

We asked the only obvious next question: “How bad?

Bad. Stage IV. Not only was the tumor the size of an orange, but it had ruptured, exposing his entire abdomen to cancerous cells. Nobody had any record of a case quite like his. Prognosis was extremely poor.

How could this be? He was playing and laughing and had just celebrated Halloween by dressing as a police officer just days before like any other 3 year old. He didn’t look sick. He didn’t act sick…nobody in the family had a history of cancer…this can’t be right.

After some more scans and tests, the doctors quickly confirmed our worst fears and leveled us with the diagnosis. It was cancer-Rhabdomyocarcoma, to be precise, a tumor-based cancer. A tumor in his abdomen attached to his large intestine and had ruptured.

There was little time to let it all sink in. Evan was scheduled for surgery to remove the tumor the next day and he was going to need us like he had never needed us before. Surgery went well. The tumor was removed along with 1/3 of his large intestine. A common chemo regimen was started shortly after he recovered from surgery. He came home with us shortly after that but it didn’t last long. The chemo was making him violently ill until he finally refused to eat at all. We were back at the hospital.

Daddy and I cried and prayed when we could. But, mostly we became experts in how doctors and hospitals worked. And how to put on a brave face for a sick child who can’t possible comprehend what he did wrong or why he had to be put through all of this. I took a leave of absence from my nursing job and did day shift with Evan. Daddy kept working and took night shift with him.

The chemo wasn’t working. He had grown another tumor in just a few weeks-the words “extremely aggressive” entered our conversions with the doctors. Another surgery was scheduled and her lost another third of his intestine. He was losing big and losing fast-and we all felt it. We were warned it could go on like this and it sure looked like it was. We were losing hope.

The doctors weren’t done trying though-and thank God they weren’t. A new chemo regimen was decided on-some very strong, very exotic stuff, we were told. And, “Oh, by the way, please sign this stack of release forms because we don’t know exactly how he’s going to react to it.”

Around Christmas he turned the corner. He started eating again. There were noticeably fewer tubes and wires hanging from his chest and arms. We brought him home on New Years Day and celebrated Christmas at home as a family.

The rounds of chemo continued for months. Progress was being made, but not enough. By the summer, the doctors had recommended he undergo a rare, and obviously dangerous, but highly effective procedure called “high-dose chemo with stem-cell rescue”. He spent the entire month of July in a sterile hospital room. Daddy and I had to wear gowns and masks whenever we approached him. For two weeks Evan, literally, had no immune system. It was very rough but he made it through. After weeks, there were finally smiles on the doctors’ faces when they talked to us and we were smiling too.

Lastly, Evan was to undergo 6 weeks of specially highly targeted radiation treatment at Christiana Hospital. I can’t explain properly what they did but parts of the treatment were pretty much built just for Evan. He was a trooper-a few skin burns were nothing compared to what he had been through up to this point.

And, when it was over, It was again the beginning of November-almost exactly one year later. Nothing left to do but cross our fingers and keep doing scans to see if enough had been done to eradicate the cancerous cells in his body.

We still have our fingers crossed, even five years later. But, here he stands. Evan will be 9 years old next month. He runs and plays and goes to school just like any other kid his age. Did I mention he’s sharp as a tack? He’s read over 500 books this school year and has plenty of cuts and scrapes to show for all the fun he’s had playing sports. He takes no medicines, has no food restrictions, and is not excluded from doing and sort of activity that a kid his age should be doing. You would never know what he had been through just meeting him at school or the mall or on the playground.

20 years ago, even 10 years ago, things may have not turned out this way for him-or for us. REAL progress has been made in cancer treatment in just a relative handful of years. The money raised for researching new cancer treatment is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do-and it’s working. Progress may seem slow at times, but this is not a mission of mercy for the seemingly doomed. Outcomes like Evan’s are more and more common everyday. And, thank God that is the case.

That is why it is with deep gratitude that I thank every one of you for your support and participation in Runway for Research. What you are doing here is important. It matters.

I thank you. Evan thanks you. And our entire family thanks you for your support.

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