The 11-year-old Rockland boy rang the bell at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) last Friday, to mark the end of his trips to Ottawa for chemotherapy treatment. Family, friends, nurses and doctors all cheered as Gavin celebrated his freedom from cancer, and also reminded other children getting treatment at the hospital that there is hope for them to ring the bell some day.
“Happy my chemo is done,” murmured a tired little boy, during a Saturday afternoon invitation at his home in Rockland. Gavin was curled up on the living room couch, alternating between texting to friends on his cellphone and watching movies on Netflix.
For more than a year now, starting when he was 10, Gavin has been dealing with a diagnosis of brain cancer and undergoing treatment for his condition.
“An intensive treatment,” said his father, Kevin Shaw, who smiles when he looks over at his son. “He’s my hero, and I’ve learned a lot about perseverance from this kid.”
The first skirmish in Gavin’s battle with brain cancer began in September 2018, not too long after confirmation of the diagnosis. He was scheduled for neurosurgery at CHEO, which meant, in the end, 21 hours of surgery to remove the tumour, with care taken to avoid damaging his brain, while at the same time not allowing a trace of the tumour to remain behind.
After the surgery was done, and Gavin had recovered from that stage of his treatment, the next round began with “aggressive” sessions of radiation therapy, through September and October, followed in the new year with the start of chemotherapy, up until November 15 this year, when Gavin went to CHEO for his last session of chemo.
One highlight for Gavin, during his experience in dealing with cancer, was the time he spent at Camp Ooch during the summer. Camp Ooch is a summer program for children dealing with cancer or other ailments. During his time at camp, Gavin shared a cabin with other children, where they all slept in bunk beds, went swimming, fishing, water skiing, enjoyed archery, wood shop, and camping out in the woods.
“We made pizza and pancakes over a camp fire,” Gavin recalled. “It was good.”
Gavin’s oncologist and some of the CHEO nursing staff volunteer their time at Camp Ooch. Kevin Shaw noted their delight at the positive results of the Camp Ooch experience on Gavin.
“They were so delighted to see how he became the life of the camp,” Kevin Shaw added. “They all said that was the moment when they saw a new Gavin.”
Home to stay
Gavin still has some trips to make to CHEO, but not for chemotherapy. He wears braces right now, because one side effect of his chemo is a condition called “drop foot syndrome”, which affects how he walks and stands. It’s a temporary condition and will disappear once the nerves in his legs have restored their functions.
For now he gets to spend time with a physiotherapist twice a week, doing exercises to strengthen his legs and keep his muscles in working order. He will also see his oncologist for standard post-treatment monitoring of his condition. But he knows that after each visit to the hospital, he gets to go home to Rockland and get back to being a normal kid again.
“Getting back into sports,” he said, about what he’s looking forward to, most of all, now that he no longer has brain cancer. “Soccer and hockey and going on school trips. And golf. I was just starting to play golf.”
Hockey is a big passion for Gavin, who cheers for the Leafs, though he used to be a Sens fan. He began his own hockey adventures first on the Eastern Ontario Cobras, and later on the Rockland Crush. He’s good on either the forward or the D line, but he admits that he prefers playing defence.
“I like stopping the other players when they get too close to the net,” he said.
Thank you Rockland
Kevin Shaw has just two words to say to everyone in Rockland who have followed and supported his son’s battle with cancer. Thank you.
“The community has been fantastic all through this,” he said. “There are just no words to describe how the community has held us up when we were hurting and helped us walk this journey.”