Imagine being three years old, and accidentally banging your tummy – then having your whole world turned upside down.
Gabriel Negreiff did just that on April 3, 2018, according to his mom Brooke.
“He was having a lot of discomfort,” she said. “It just got worse and worse, and he was vomiting throughout the night.”
Brooke, an RN and resident care coordinator at Columbia View Lodge in Trail, called in sick and took little Gabe to emerg.
“They did some blood work, and his white count was really elevated,” she said. “He was sent to Trail hospital, where he had an abnormal ultrasound. Then he had a CT scan, and the pediatrician came in the room (I was alone at the time), and told me she suspected he had cancer on his kidney (a Wilms tumour), and that we had to fly to the Children’s Hospital in the next couple of hours.”
Her husband Mike and eight-year-old twins Coleman and Graysen were en route and arrived right after, so Brooke raced home to throw together some things to take with them, without having any clue how long they’d be gone. She and Gabe were taken by ambulance to Grand Forks and then by air ambulance to BC Children’s Hospital.
“I packed all the wrong things – it was very, very overwhelming, and we were all very afraid.”
A lot of tests, a lot of bloodwork and a lot of pokes later, they were finally moved up to the oncology unit at 4 a.m. Gabe’s symptoms were getting worse, and he ended up having surgery the next day. Mike had been driving to Vancouver and arrived just in time for the doctors to escort him up to talk to Gabe before they put him under.
“He had his right kidney totally removed,” Brooke said. “Post-op was awful, he was in a lot of discomfort, and he had to start radiation right away.”
They were taken back and forth by ambulance from the Children’s Hospital to the cancer clinic for about five days, until they were discharged to stay at the Ronald McDonald House while Gabe underwent outpatient radiation (they ended up staying there 174 nights).
Testing showed the cancer had spread to Gabe’s lungs, so the radiation had to be both abdominal and on his lungs, as well as chemo – 32 weeks, in all.
“Mike and the twins came and lived at the Ronald McDonald House with us over the summer.
“Dec. 7 was his last chemo, and we were able to go home for good,” Brooke said. “While we were in Vancouver, I think we (Mom and Gabe) got to come home four times."
And here’s the staggeringly joyous part of the story – Gabe had his final bloodwork on March 6, and all the scans came back free and clear of cancer. He had his port removed, went home for good, and will be starting Kindergarten in the fall. He'll still need to travel to Vancouver every three months for follow-ups for several years, then every six months, and finally every year until he turns 20.
Brooke says the generosity of friends, family, the community, and total, random strangers made all the difference during their ordeal.
When Mike and the twins wanted to be with Gabe and Brooke during the summer, it could never have happened without the generosity of Mercer (where Mike works) and his coworkers, who donated their own holiday time to make it happen.
Robyn Sofonoff started up a Go Fund Me Page called Gabriel’s fight against cancer which raised $25,560 (see the page here https://www.gofundme.com/gabriel-fight-against-cancer ).
“I stopped work April 3, and didn’t see a dime from EI until August,” Brooke explained. “Meanwhile, our expenses – it was like setting up a second household (plus the travel and minus Brooke’s income). Without the help and support of the people around us, things would look very different for us now.”
She said she even had a lady, a random stranger in a restaurant in Vancouver, ask her about why she was in town, and, upon hearing her story, insisted on pressing some money into her hand. She had been leaving at the time, and outside the restaurant, she looked and discovered the woman, whom she’d never seen before in her life, had given her five $100 bills.
“We made lifelong friends, and met a lot of really great families going through similar things – the oncology families became really quite close. We’ve lost friends to cancer and have friends still fighting.”
She said her gratitude is way beyond anything words can adequately express.
“It’s amazing how many people helped us during our time of need, and we’re just so incredibly appreciative and thankful.”
Because Gabriel had childhood cancer, he also got a wish from the Children's Wish Foundation, and the family decided together to get a travel trailer to enjoy the many years ahead of them, for which they are so, so grateful.