"I WANT TO RUN AND IT WON'T GO AWAY."
KELOWNA – It all started with a pain in nine-year-old Liam’s leg.
His parents, Shilo Lauinger and Amber Bigelow, took him to their family doctor in Kelowna expecting a diagnosis of a pulled muscle.
A PET scan was scheduled and instead of a pulled muscle, they found a localized osteosarcoma, a tumor that starts in the bones and spreads to the lungs. The tumor was pressing on a major nerve, causing Liam intense pain and affecting his mobility.
Liam and his family were sent to the B.C. Children’s Hospital in Vancouver for chemotherapy they were told could extend until August of 2014.
Shilo and Amber have been divorced for several years and the four of them, including daughter Logan, 4, have only been able to return to Kelowna twice. Over Christmas, Liam picked up what should have been a minor cold, but because of the toll chemotherapy takes on the immune system, it quickly became a fever and Liam was admitted to KGH.
“We miss home a ton. I know Liam does," Shilo says. "He really misses his friends a lot but we just can’t take the risk."
“We’re cooped up in a house because he’s really not that mobile. It’s not like we can even go out to dinner that easily because he’s got a wheelchair and his leg has to be extended," Shilo says. “We play a lot of video games and he enjoys sitting in the back yard and just taking in some sun.”
“The hardest part of all this has been staying positive," Shilo says. "We’ve been down here already for seven months and some days it gets hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel but we know we’re coming along and everything is going to get better."
As soon as the first round of chemotherapy was over a section of Liam's leg had to be removed for the bone graft. Doctors cut away as much of the tumor as possible and the bones were reattached, held together with metal screws and plates.
“That’s 28 cm of his femur," Shilo says of the section of leg removed for the graft. "The doctor’s say this is the largest allograft that they’ve ever done. The second largest that they could find on record was 26 cm.”
After the surgery, Liam was essentially bed-ridden with a severly broken leg while they waited several weeks to find out if it was successful. They were hoping for a removal of at least 65 per cent, the average for this kind of procedure.
“No healing has happened and no healing will happen until six weeks after the chemo is done so he has a lot of pain," Shilo says.
On Feb. 28, they found out Liam was 90 per cent cancer-free.
“We should be saying goodbye to Children’s Hospital July 1 and then we’ll just have follow-up treatments. That’s if everything has gone well.”
Shilo and Amber were told Liam would need at least a year of rehabilitation before he can walk again.
"It’s going to be a little bit of a tough battle but Liam’s going to push through with flying colours. He really wants to get out and do stuff again.”
“We’re working on physiotherapy every day," Shilo says. "He’s doing knee-bends and he’s got to the point where he can put 40 lbs of weight on his foot."
In the meantime, Shilo says he and his ex-wife are working well together and have even come to rely on each other in a way they never have before.
“I couldn’t have picked a better ex to go through this with,” Shilo says. “We’ve really supported each other and she has qualities I don’t and when we put those together we are able to get every bit of energy we needed to get through this.”
“My advice to other parents who are going through this would be to take it one day at a time," Amber says. "Make sure to breathe because it is scary. Look at the big picture and take it one step at a time. Things may not always turn out the way you want it to but if you take it a day at a time and appreciate the moments then no matter how things turn out in the end at least you made the most of the days you have together.”
Donations to help Liam can be made online.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.