In the fall of 2018, Mike and Heather Roy received news that no parents ever want to hear: their 10-year-old daughter, Evelyn, had cancer. Scans had revealed a softball-sized tumour growing above her kidney. Further tests confirmed a devastating diagnosis of Stage 4 Neuroblastoma.
“Evelyn was always an exceptional little kid,” says Heather. “While there were some rough days when she was going through treatment, her trademark wit and spice always shone through.” After initial surgeries, months of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, several weeks of radiation therapy, and experimental immunotherapy treatment Evelyn’s cancer returned. While every possible further treatment was pursued, sadly, Evelyn passed away at the end of February 2020. Reflecting on her daughter’s journey, Heather says, “She maintained her incredible spirit until the very end. The team did everything they could to save her life. In our minds, she didn’t lose this battle. She won because she fought with such courage.”
Evelyn’s strength and spirit garnered her the affection of her entire medical team. Heather is quick to say that the care they received went above and beyond anything they ever expected to experience. They were treated like family – from hugs in the hallway when the news was difficult, to sessions with the music therapist, to pet nights with Evelyn’s sister, Harper, to dance parties with the nurses. The support over that year and a half was completely holistic and all-encompassing – Heather’s not sure how they would have managed without.
Through their heartbreaking loss, the Roy family were inspired to support the efforts scientists at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Studies are currently being led in the Childhood Cancer Research Program to solve the mysteries of relapsed or unresponsive cancers like Evelyn’s. Findings are so promising that the stage has been set for an upcoming North American multi-centre clinical trial which would include patients at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
“It is so encouraging to know that brilliant people are working on this right here in our city,” says Heather. “No parent should ever have to lose their child to cancer. And for those who survive their diagnosis, they shouldn’t have to live with horrible side effects of such toxic treatments. We need to keep working to find better ways to cure our kids.”
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