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Baby wins cancer battle

Posted on 04/08/2009 12:00am

James Murray/Observer

By Tracy Hughes - Salmon Arm Observer
Published: August 04, 2009

Cilla and Rod Watkins, parents of one-year-old Zachary, know their favourite word in the English language.
Cured.

That was the news the family received July 27 from Zach's doctor at B.C. Children's Hospital where Zach has been undergoing intensive treatment for a rare form of liver cancer.

"To hear the word cured from the doctor, I was almost in shock," says Rod. "It is indescribable, to know that our child is OK, that it is over and maybe things can finally get back to normal. It is hard to put into words how big this is."

Zach was six-months-old when the family's life was rocked by the news he was suffering from hepatoblastoma, and had a baseball-sized tumour taking over three-quarters of his liver.

Since then, Zach and Cilla, joined often by Rod and two-year-old brother Alex, have been in Vancouver for his treatment including numerous rounds of chemotherapy, a complex, seven-hour surgery to remove the tumour and follow-up chemo designed to ensure that no cancer cells could remain.

Fortunately the liver is an organ that can regenerate, so despite doctors removing two-thirds of this organ, his body re-grew a normal-sized liver in just six weeks.

"The waiting during his surgery was probably the worst because it was a very complicated surgery and you were told all the things that could go wrong. You know things can go wrong. When we saw the surgeon come down the hall towards us and he was smiling from ear-to-ear, it was like we finally started to see the light, that Zach really was going to recover from this," says Cilla.

Now the family is back at home in Salmon Arm and couldn't be happier. For the immediate future, Zach will require testing every three months at B.C. Children's but the most recent CT scan showed no residual cancer cells.
With tears of joy spilling over, Cilla cuddles her baby boy close.

"You did it buddy," she says into the blond fuzz that is starting to grow in after the treatments. "You're amazing."
While the family was anticipating good news based on other tests, they have held their emotions in check for a long time, through many ups and downs with Zach's treatment.

"You learn not to count on anything - even now we still have a reservation at Ronald MacDonald House that we have to cancel. It's hard to believe we can be home now," says Cilla.

The family was able to live in the charity home for a nominal fee, but still had to pay for food, transportation costs, parking and other expenses.

"I'm so grateful Ronald MacDonald House is there, but as you can imagine, it is still not home," says Cilla.
And home is also where so many in the community rallied around the family during the past five months of stress and fear. Friends, led by Melissa Nasby, organized a fundraising evening for them, which generated an overwhelming response from residents and local businesses, while other people donated to a trust fund.
"We live in such a wonderful community, where people are so helpful and caring. People we didn't even know were making donations, the bank was getting envelopes just labelled Baby Watkins with cash inside," says Cilla. "It really raised our spirits to realize how many people cared about you back home."

They also had morale boosts from others: Ronald MacDonald House threw a big party for Zach's first birthday, which helped ease Cilla's sadness at the fact that he was in the middle of chemo that day. As well, a seven-year-old boy named Daniel helped raise the family's spirits when instead of getting presents for himself he asked for presents to be bought for the children and their siblings who were staying at Ronald MacDonald House.

"It was so touching, because you could really tell this kid had come up with this on his own, and that he was just from a regular, middle class family. He probably would have really enjoyed some new toys, but he was beaming at the chance to give gifts to these kids," says Cilla. "Things like that went a long way."

The family wishes to extend their thanks to everyone who offered help.

We have made an effort to try and thank those that we knew, but a lot of people donated anonymously and we would just like to extend our thanks to them," says Rod.

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