Wills Hodgkinson (wearing his Batman T-shirt) is surrounded by his classmates on a rare trip home last April from Vancouver, where he was undergoing treatment for cancer. Steve Kidd/Western News

Looking back: a South Okanagan family’s year-long journey

Community support plays role in recovery

One of the ongoing stories from 2018 started with a seven-year-old boy’s tummy-ache.

Only it wasn’t a tummy-ache, as young Wills Hodgkinson and his family soon found out. It was a kidney tumour and a particularly dangerous one at that.

It was a Wilm’s Tumour, a type of kidney cancer that affects young children. In Wills’ case, the tumour was the size of a fist, grown so large it had also attached itself to surrounding organs and was too big to be removed safely, at least not without weeks of chemo and radiation therapy to shrink it first.

Related: Support pouring in for Penticton boy fighting cancer

The tumour had likely been growing since Wills was born.

If that wasn’t bad enough, the team in the Teck Acute Care unit at B.C. Children’s Hospital also found eight spots of cancer on the boy’s lungs.

If this doesn’t rank near the top of a family’s worst nightmares, I’m not sure what would.

Wills Hodgkinson holds tight to his dad Tim, during a visit home in the spring. Wills followed a tough path through 2018, spending most of the year in Vancouver being treated for cancer. Steve Kidd/Western News

Let’s jump ahead to the end of the year though, when Wills, looking energetic and chipper, visited my office to talk about his ordeal and to thank the community for their support.

“I’m done with cancer,” he declared, and I automatically knocked on wood. Wills was more interested in talking about his plans to play soccer with first the Pinnacles, then the Whitecaps and finally Chelsea F.C. in London, England.

Tim, his dad, pulled me aside later to ask I not use his son’s declaration in the story since Wills is not “done with cancer.” The tumour has been removed, and months of treatment have shrunk the lung tumours — four are gone and the remaining ones are small and stabilized.

Wills likely has a lifetime ahead of him with worries about cancer returning and taking care of himself, but for now, the simple “I’m done,” is an example of a positive mental attitude that we can all envy.

The months between, though, have been a trying time for Wills, his younger sister Scarlett, mother Neely Brim and his dad Tim, all of whom were at Wills’ side through the ordeal in Vancouver at the Children’s Hospital.

More than once, Tim has told me how much the support coming from home meant to the family.

Related: Mountie visit brings a smile to Penticton kid fighting cancer

Volunteers organized fundraisers, but also events like the fire department bringing a truck out to visit Holy Cross Lutheran School when Wills was home on a short visit this spring, along with his schoolmate and fellow cancer fighter Brandon Neufeld.

Related: Schoolmates welcome home Penticton boy fighting cancer

Wills received huge support from here at home, as well as in the hospital, where he had visits from a full-dress uniform Corporal Dan Moskaluk (himself a kidney cancer survivor), members of the Canucks and the Whitecaps, whom he formed a special bond with.

Related: Penticton boy helping launch B.C. Children’s Hospital Christmas fundraiser

That support forms a big part of the story, helping to keep the boy’s spirits up as he suffered through the painful treatments, and no doubt helped him on the path to recovery.

Because the story here isn’t just about Wills’ journey and getting on the path to recovery, but the attitude that has carried him and his family through 2018: never giving up, finding joy when and where you can — even in the worst of times — and staying positive.

Let’s all hope that Wills carries that spirit on through many years.

Steve Kidd is the senior reporter with the Penticton Western News and this story was chosen as his most significant to write about in 2018.

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