“Don’t be special!” That’s Mitchel’s advice to other kids, and he says it with a big smile.
For Mitchel, it’s too late, he just is special, and not because this articulate and vibrant young man has been dealing with cancer since 2016, but because he does it with such amazing courage. He has the courage to talk about the hard times, to be grateful for the good times and to laugh in the face of a terrifying situation.
He has the courage to talk about the hard times, to be grateful for the good times and to laugh in the face of a terrifying situation.
Mitchel came to CHEO because of a condition that was proving difficult to diagnose, he had been suffering from hearing loss for a long time. As his hearing deteriorated, degenerating into constant ringing in his ear in March of 2016, his doctor felt a cochlear implant might be the best solution. An MRI was scheduled to determine if the procedure was a possibility. No one was expecting the MRI to find lesions on Mitchel’s brain and spinal cord. No one could have predicted that the subsequent biopsy would lead to a diagnosis of atypical choroid plexus tumours (Grade II). No one could have prepared Mitchel or his family for 18 weeks of chemotherapy followed by 23 doses of radiation.
Chemotherapy started the day after the diagnosis. It was not easy: nausea, fluid retention, and sleeplessness, were just some of the side effects. But as the rounds of treatment moved forward, there were improvements to celebrate. Mitchel’s mother Patti couldn’t believe it when one day he could hear her having a conversation in another room and for the first time in a long time Mitchel could hear his brother, Tyler talking to him. Treatments ended in November 2016, and on November 10, Mitchel rang the bell at CHEO so everyone could hear the sound of success.
The treatment journey is never a straight path and can leave patients and families feeling discouraged. Round three of Mitchel’s chemo started on his birthday. Christmas of 2016 he battled serious fatigue. The radiation sickness was intense and made even harder when he contracted Clostridium difficile (C. difficile). He describes this phase as “the cancer of cancer treatment.”
Luckily the journey was not a lonely one for Mitchel and he recognizes that saying, “My family and my healthcare team have been amazing. I couldn’t have done it without them.” From small gestures like the team on 4North at CHEO letting him sleep later and do things at night as any teenager would,
to friends and family shaving their heads in support, to his brother getting a tattoo to honour Mitchel, there have been a lot of special moments. “There have been so many good experiences which have brought our family closer together,” he says.
Where does Mitchel go from here? Stay tuned, he’s the author of this story. He does have some advice about the importance of self-care. Mitchel’s symptoms had been present for years, seemingly small things like pins and needles, minor coordination problems, and headaches. Because they would come and go it was normal to dismiss them. It is easier now to see the importance of getting things checked and communicating the full range of issues so doctors can see a pattern. “Don’t tough it out,” he warns. After his diagnosis, doctors kept telling Mitchel, “You should be really sick!” It seems that Mitchel puts one foot in front of the other no matter what he’s facing.