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Imagine your 4-year-old had a cancer so rare, his doctors had to consult with cancer experts around the world to decide how to treat it. Now imagine learning the people best equipped to advise are the same oncologists who cared for the many children of Chernobyl who contracted the same cancer. Thyroid cancer in children is relatively rare and takes years to present itself. So when Kayley and Shayne Leeds learned that her son Ashton had it – and it was stage 4 – it was a shock. One day Kayley noticed a lump on Asthon’s neck, and within a few days she was hearing that he had tumours on his thyroid, lymph nodes, a mass in his chest close to his heart, and in his lungs. Experts grouped together to come up with a plan – the first part being a ten hour surgery with three surgeons working together to remove his lymph nodes, thyroid and take a biopsy of his lungs. The tumour was encasing 2 major nerves – and there was no other way to remove the tumour without impact them. One controlled his vocal cord and the other controlled his diaphragm, so Ashton’s airway and breathing were compromised, but there was no other choice. The next step would be to treat the cancer with radiation and this is where things got even more complicated. Believe it or not, thyroid cancer is treated by drinking a “cocktail” of radioactive iodine. Patients then must stay away from other people because they are literally giving off harmful radiation. Adults with this condition just live in their basement for a week until the radiation levels are safe again.
But Ashton had medical issues from his surgery which required him to be in the Children’s where specialists could offer him the specialized pediatric care he needed. So after much consultation, staff at the children’s transformed a room in the PICU into a radiation-proof “fun palace” that could keep Ashton occupied, safe and allow him access to medical help if need be. Staff were asked to volunteer to work with Ashton – which if not done right, could be harmful to their own health – and they did! His room was stocked with toys and lego and games to keep him amused for his entire 5-day stay. Shayne moved into the room next to him and he could interact with his son for only minutes a day. It was a highly strategized undertaking and one that’s never been done before at any other children’s hospital in Canada. Since then, Ashton has had another cocktail and was able to stay at his grandparents’ house this time…but just keep his distance. Recent scans show that the remaining tumours in his lungs and chest are shrinking considerably – so the family is encouraged the therapy is working. Meanwhile, Ashton is playing hockey and just being a regular kid.