It’s Saturday afternoon and nine-year-old Wills Hodgkinson has just returned from visiting a friend. Upstairs in the playroom of his family’s Naramata home, his attention is divided between the shiny new Yamaha drum set and the Mighty Ducks movie playing on television.
“This is the best part,” he said, cranking up the volume on the remote for the critical scene of the show. “It’s just a really well-made movie, I like the storyline. This is the second Ducks movie, the first one was really good but the third one sucks.”
For most kids his age, this would not be anything special. But for Wills, who for the second time in his young life is battling cancer, it’s anything but typical.
Last week Wills, his father Tim and younger sister Scarlett got to come home from B.C. Children’s Hospital for the first time as a family since late December when Wills had surgery and began chemotherapy again.
But at least for a few days, even with the medical tubes still attached to the outside of his chest, the punishing hospital routine is a lifetime away.
“I’m feeling really good, it’s nice to come home and see my friends. I just got back from my best friend Jordan’s an hour ago and he’s coming over tomorrow morning, we’ve been friends for five years, ever since kindergarten,” said Wills with his ever-present smile. “It’s really great to see my friends, they’ve been there to see me at the hospital and it’s really important that I get to see them again, I miss them.”
The other fun thing he got to do on this trip home: “I went to school again on two days and saw my other friends and everybody was glad to see me again and they asked about the hospital and I told them some stuff. It was fun.”
Wills is in Grade 4 at Holy Cross School and staff and students have been in close touch, even buying him an iPad so they could Facetime back and forth and allowing him to participate in class when he’s able.
In Feb. 2018, Wills was diagnosed with a Wilm’s tumour, a rare kidney cancer that primarily affects children. Then, just before Christmas — almost a year past he was cleared — two new tumours on his lung were discovered and treatment began all over again, including surgery to remove one of them.
“Coming home for Wills has been immense, massive,” said his father, Tim. “It’s so important to have that human contact, for him to sleep in his bed, have his toys, with all the best intentions in the world you can’t replace that, there’s nothing like it.
“Just to let him be part of normal life, he gets to swap being a cancer patient for being a kid again.”
Hodgkinson admitted it was with mixed emotions when they walked in the front door of the house last week for the first time since their hasty departure in December. Scarlett, Tim and mom Neeley Brimer have been staying with Wills at B.C. Children’s Hospital as he was treated.
“We came home to all our Christmas decorations still being up, our tree had unfortunately lost all its needles and there were unwrapped Christmas presents still waiting. It was a really happy return but it was also kind of a bit sad,” he said. “But it has really been good for Wills, coming home is not going to be a miracle cure but it does lift a lot of weight. We hope the happier he is the better it will be for him to fight the cancer itself.”
The three returned to Vancouver Feb. 25 and Wills was expected to undergo a medical evaluation this week and learn his prognosis.
The family is expecting to get those results from the doctors on Friday at the hospital.
“This will be one of those hold-the-breath moments, to see how effective the chemo has been on the remaining tumour they deliberately left in,” said Hodgkinson, adding Wills could be in for another four, month-long chemo cycles as well as a stem cell implant.
“So we’re in it for the long haul, we know that, just fingers crossed.”
Both he and Brimer, who separated in 2016, have been spending time in Vancouver during treatment, Brimer at the hospital with Wills and Scarlett, who is four-and-a-half years old, and Hodgkinson at Ronald McDonald House.
Both parents had immense praise for the enormous support they have received from friends and the many people they don’t even know.
“It’s incredible, in the best possible way it’s overwhelming,” said Brimer. “I’m incredibly grateful for where we live and the people that are involved in our community.”