At CHEO bravery often comes in small packages. The most courageous souls facing the hardest struggles are found in children like Aidan Warren, a little boy who used all of his strength to regain his health and get back to living his best life. Now eight years old, Aidan approaches a lumbar puncture or other painful procedure head on. His trick? A mantra. He closes his eyes and lightly beats a clenched fist to his chest saying, “I summon Brave Aidan!” And it works. Every time. His parents, Jacquie and Jeff have been in awe of their boy since he was diagnosed in March, 2018 with ALL: Pre-B Cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Aidan’s flu-like symptoms and recurrent strep throat that winter gave way to unexplained fevers, headaches, leg pains and lethargy. “One morning, he was this strange, grey colour,” Jacquie recalls with a shudder. “We knew it was beyond growing pains and a bad cold and flu season.” Aidan went to the family doctor for bloodwork and their lives changed forever.
“We got the call at 10 o’clock that night,” Jacquie remembers. “They told us to get Aidan to CHEO right away.” Aidan recalls that night, too. It’s one of the few things he remembers about the time of his diagnosis. “Dad burst into my room, waking me up,” he says. “He got me dressed and we left for the hospital.” That was on a Monday night. Tuesday, Aidan underwent a bone marrow biopsy; Wednesday he was diagnosed with leukemia; Thursday he had his port-a-cath surgically implanted, and on Friday he began chemotherapy. He spent two-and-a-half weeks in isolation at CHEO. His first seven months of treatment was an intense regime of intravenous chemotherapy. Now, Aidan is on a maintenance plan of chemotherapy pills at home every day, two types of oral chemo on Thursdays and a lumbar puncture treatment every three months.
Aidan’s biggest concern during his hospital stay was what he was missing. Being immunocompromised, he couldn’t have visitors or go to the playroom. “I kept wondering what my brothers were doing at home,” he says, and without skipping a beat adds: “I would paint birdhouses – and that was fun, but I missed my brothers.”
“They’re close,” Jacquie says smiling. Liam, the oldest at ten is Aidan’s fierce protector. Five-year-old Parry loves his big brother and their rough and tumble play. New on the scene is Penny, the baby sister who loves nothing more than to touch Aidan’s face, run her hands through his new thick, sandy curls and occasionally grab a fist full and pull. He’s tolerant and she’s the apple of his eye.
CHEO remains a special place for Aidan. He knows why he’s there. “I have a sickness in my blood. It’s cancer, so I need to go to CHEO for pokes,” he says simply. He loves hanging out with Molly Penny the therapeutic clown. Jacquie also finds her own peace among their CHEO family. “When I go to MDU there’s a special energy in there. And when we lived in that hospital room for two weeks – I didn’t want to leave. We felt safe there and they knew how to take care of him.” Jacquie and Jeff were sent home with a binder and medications. “It was all so terrifying and now it all seems so simple,” she says laughing. “We just do it every day and without really thinking about it.” He is on track to finish his treatment in May 2021.
Otherwise, Aidan is a typical eight-year-old boy. He’s not sure what he wants to be when he grows up, but he loves Pokémon and recess and would love the superpower of having infinite wishes! Our only wish is that kids like Aidan have access to the gentlest, most effective treatment that CHEO can provide – and that someday cancer will be history.